Keshav Maharaj’s farewell gift to Yorkshire has Somerset in a spin at Headingley

James Hildreth is lbw bowled by Keshav Maharaj.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
James Hildreth is lbw bowled by Keshav Maharaj. Picture Bruce Rollinson
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ANYONE coming late to this game might assume from the scorecard that the team names are printed the wrong way round.

Surely it was Somerset who made 520 in their first innings and not Yorkshire?

Keshav Maharaj.  Picture Bruce Rollinson

Keshav Maharaj. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Surely it was Yorkshire who were dismissed for 196 in reply and, following-on, are 159-4 going into day four, a deficit of 165?

That is not to disparage the hosts but to highlight the stunning season that Somerset have had, and the magnificent way in which Yorkshire have played.

The visitors had won seven of nine matches to sit top of the league, 55 points ahead of Yorkshire, who have consistently struggled for first innings runs.

Yet, as anyone who watched a certain match at Lord’s the previous day could testify, strange old things can happen in cricket. Why, four overthrows can miraculously deflect off a player’s bat as he innocently dives to make his ground.

Indeed, a side can even lose a World Cup final by zero runs after the same match is tied not once, but twice.

Now, it would seem, assuming that everything continues to go to plan for the home team, Yorkshire can beat Somerset in a Championship fixture, a result that would just about – if only just – keep them in the title race while at the same time damaging Somerset’s bid for a maiden crown.

Nothing, of course, can be taken for granted, as that fanciful finish between England and New Zealand emphatically proved.

But this match has so far gone the exact opposite of how many envisaged, as if it was being played in a mirror or, in Somerset’s case, in a grotesque house of mirrors at an amusement park.

After Somerset began day three on 76-4, a mere 444 runs adrift, Keshav Maharaj, the South African left-arm spinner, took the final six wickets of an innings that finished in the fourth over after lunch, ending with 7-52 from 26.3 overs.

Three of his victims were lbw, three caught at the wicket and one bowled, Maharaj’s return 
the best by a Yorkshire slow bowler since Phil Carrick’s 7-44 against Derbyshire at Sheffield in 1983.

For those who like their statistics, they were also the best figures for Yorkshire since pace bowler Ryan Sidebottom’s 7-44 against Middlesex at Scarborough in 2014, and the best at Headingley since Sidebottom’s 7-37 against Somerset in 2011.

Small wonder that Yorkshire are talking to Cricket South Africa about the possibility of getting Maharaj back for their next Championship game, against Nottinghamshire at Scarborough from August 18, and perhaps for their September fixtures too, with this being the final match of his three-game deal.

Maharaj admitted: “I’ve enjoyed my time here. They are a very welcoming county. I will most likely be coming back in the latter part to hopefully finish off the season.

“We’re in a good position in the game. Hopefully we can finish it off tomorrow and claim the win.”

Wheeling away from the Emerald Stand end, on a warm day blessed with plenty of sunshine, Maharaj was especially successful with the ball that went on with the arm while cleverly changing his flight and pace.

Lithe and loose-limbed, with a liquid action and run-up, Maharaj took three wickets in the first 40 minutes as Somerset showed all the adhesive qualities of folk with oily hands trying to cling on to a greasy pole.

At the other end, Matt Fisher had all the luck of a New Zealand World Cup finalist, several times beating the outside edge, with only Jamie Overton seriously troubling the scorers, clubbing an unbeaten half-century from No 9 including two straight sixes off Maharaj and a third over point off Duanne Olivier.

Trailing by 324 with 57 overs left in the day, Somerset killed any prospect of a three-day finish, playing with greater resilience than they had before.

Tom Abell and Azhar Ali added 89 for the first wicket before Fisher finally gained deserved reward, trapping Azhar on the crease in the sixth over of the evening session.

In the next over, James Hildreth, trying to tonk Maharaj over the top, tamely skied to Steve Patterson at mid-off, not the sort of shot that Somerset would have wanted from an experienced player as they scrapped for a draw.

Fisher then fished Abell forward to have him caught behind for a fighting half-century, before Maharaj drew George Bartlett forward to have him caught at slip by a tumbling Adam Lyth.

Tom Banton battled his way to an unbeaten 58, but Somerset are a bit like a chess player whose opponent is at least a Queen up and perhaps a couple of Bishops and Rooks to the good.

Checkmate should be a formality from here, the current First Division King on the brink of capture.