Cricket: Harmer's magnificent seven puts Essex on title brink
PUBLISHED: 18:21 18 September 2019 | UPDATED: 18:22 18 September 2019
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Simon Harmer spun Essex to the brink of the Specsavers County Championship title with seven wickets as reigning champions Surrey were despatched by an innings at Chelmsford.
With Somerset beaten at Southampton, Harmer's efforts enabled Essex to reclaim top place by 12 points with one game to play. They head to Taunton next week knowing they need to avoid defeat to guarantee their second title in three years.
News of Somerset's defeat came at the same moment that Harmer took his sixth wicket to leave Surrey floundering at 115-7. The end came nearly two hours later at 5.58pm.
The South African all-rounder followed a quick-fire 50 in the morning that took Essex to 395 - and four batting points - with his ninth haul in the Championship of five wickets or more this season. His season's tally now stands at 78.
Facing a first-innings deficit of 221, Surrey collapsed to 181 all out on a pitch that became a spinner's paradise as it dried out the longer the game went on.
The victory by an innings and 40 runs meant Essex had won all seven Championship at Chelmsford this season, this being the fourth to finish inside three days, with only two others going into a fourth day. The match was watched by a three-day aggregate of 7,100, the biggest at the ground in 2019.
Centuries by Dan Lawrence and Ryan ten Doeschate had underpinned Essex's highest total at The Cloudfm County Ground this summer.
But it was Harmer who again grabbed the limelight. He made the breakthrough in the third over after lunch when Mark Stoneman looked dazed on his crease as he went lbw.
Scott Borthwick followed him two Harmer overs later, attempting to pull over midwicket but getting a leading edge and popping up a dolly for Nick Browne at short cover.
Jamie Smith lifted Harmer for six over long leg, but was almost walking before the umpire's finger went up as a quicker ball rapped him on the pads.
Ollie Pope hung around for 46 balls for 30 before pulling to Aaron Beard at midwicket. And next ball Harmer gave it a bit of extra air to deceive Will Jacks and dislodge the bails. At that point Harmer had all five wickets at a personal cost of 21.
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Ben Foakes and Rikki Clarke saw Surrey through to tea without further alarm. But to the third ball after the interval Clarke drove at Jamie Porter and was held by the safe hands of Harmer at second slip.
Foakes's 64-ball vigil ended when he was beaten by the extra pace imparted by Harmer to go lbw. Liam Plunkett didn't hang around for long, caught behind off Porter.
When Harmer was granted a well-deserved rest after bowling unchanged from the River End from the sixth over onwards, he had figures of 30-14-44-6.
Jordan Clark and Morne Morkel frustrated Essex for 18 overs while they put on 43 for the ninth wicket before Clark nicked Ravi Bopara through to the wicketkeeper. Harmer wrapped up the innings when Morkel went for a heave to give Harmer figures of 7-58.
Earlier, ten Doeschate had led from the front to help Essex rack up a formidable first-innings lead. The captain posted his second Championship century of the season - the other also scored against Surrey - with 12 boundaries in a 122-ball 103.
Ten Doeschate needed just 20 balls in the morning session to move from his overnight 78 to three figures as a wristy square-cut for four off Amar Virdi took him to the milestone.
But two balls later, trying a force off the back foot, ten Doeschate edged to Clarke at slip to become the first wicket in the match to fall to a spinner.
One wicket for Virdi quickly became two as Adam Wheater ended a 34-ball stay for six runs by charging down the wicket and being stumped by Foakes.
A late assault by Harmer almost took Essex to maximum points for the first time this summer despite losing Beard to a slip catch off Clarke along the way.
The South African launched Virdi for two sixes over long leg, the second followed by successive fours, one swept, the other reversed as he laid down his intent.
He reached a 46-ball fifty off the last ball of the 109th over with two more boundaries in a row to leave just five runs required from six balls for a fifth batting point.
But Sam Cook carelessly lobbed the first ball straight into Borthwick's hands at mid-on and Essex were left stranded on 395.