Keshav Maharaj has Somerset in a spin – again – as Yorkshire stay in title hunt

TO SAY that Keshav Maharaj likes playing against Somerset is a bit like saying that Theresa May likes Geoffrey Boycott.

Tuesday, 10th September 2019, 8:13 pm
Updated Tuesday, 10th September 2019, 9:13 pm
Yorkshire spinner Keshav Maharaj who claimed 5-54

On the day that we found out that Geoffrey is to become “Sir Geoffrey”, as part of Mrs May’s resignation honours, Maharaj spun his way to 5-54 from 23.5 overs as Yorkshire bowled out Somerset for 199 before ending day one on 70-3.

It lifted Maharaj’s return against Somerset to 26 wickets in five first-class innings at an average of 10.88.

Although the South African left-arm spinner was not seen leaving the Taunton ground last night singing “can I play you every week?”, he could at least have been forgiven had such a thought flashed across his mind.

Steve Davies of Somerset appeals successfully for the wicket of Gary Ballance.

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Maharaj, who took 11-102 here playing for Lancashire last year, and 10-127 when Yorkshire beat Somerset by an innings at Headingley in July, was magnificent once more, bowling unchanged at the River End from shortly before lunch and extracting appreciable turn and bounce.

In this, the last of his five County Championship appearances for Yorkshire this year as an overseas player, he did exactly what his captain, Steve Patterson, had asked of him at a venue where any spinner worth his salt arrives licking his lips and stretching his fingers.

Maharaj now has 33 Championship wickets for Yorkshire at 18.09 to go with 235 runs at 33.57.

After one or two dud overseas signings in recent times, Yorkshire have pulled a rabbit from the hat in the form of the 29-year-old, with whom they hope to forge a lasting relationship.

Duanne Olivier celebrates the wicket of Somerset's James Hildreth.

Only the late dismissal of Gary Ballance took the gloss of an otherwise excellent day for Yorkshire, the former England man trapped leg-before by off-spinner Dom Bess, who spent time on loan at Yorkshire earlier this season.

“It would have been great to have gone in at 70-2 because Gary Ballance had been batting really well,” said Rich Pyrah, Yorkshire’s assistant coach.

“To lose his wicket so late was frustrating, but we are still pretty happy with our day’s work.

“Kesh Maharaj has been brilliant for us; it’s great to have someone like him capable of bowling long spells while we rotate things at the other end.

“The pitch is by no means a minefield and, if we bat well, we can get ourselves into a decent position.”

The pitch, bare at both ends but otherwise green, played reasonably well after Yorkshire inserted beneath murky skies.

The third-placed visitors, still clinging to the outside hope of winning the title, 35 points behind Somerset and 37 behind leaders Essex going into the match, omitted Jack Leaning, Matt Fisher and Jack Shutt from their 14-man squad.

Somerset were without the former Yorkshire pace bowler Jack Brooks (heel) and England’s Craig Overton and Jack Leach.

The hosts handed a debut to Murali Vijay, the 35-year-old India opener, who began with a pleasant cover-driven boundary off Ben Coad in the general direction of the Quantock Hills, a timeless patchwork of yellows, greens and browns, cloaked in the aura of impending autumn.

Murali did not detain Yorkshire for long.

After fellow opener Steven Davies drove Patterson loosely to point, the Indian was caught behind off a good delivery from the South African pace bowler Duanne Olivier as Somerset fell to 31-2 in the 16th over.

That became 37-3 when Olivier bowled James Hildreth through the gate and then 46-4 when Tom Banton was well-caught low down by Adam Lyth at second slip after the batsman edged into his pad a delivery from Tim Bresnan, the former England man’s 550th first-class wicket.

Somerset slid to 70-5 from the second ball after lunch, George Bartlett lazily reverse-sweeping Maharaj to Lyth at second slip, and Yorkshire were firmly on top when Coad had Lewis Gregory caught behind by Jonny Tattersall standing up to leave them 85-6.

But Bess added 45 for the seventh-wicket with his captain, Tom Abell, sweeping and cutting Maharaj to the boundary before Maharaj had his fellow spinner driving to short cover, his third wicket then arriving when he trapped Roelof van der Merwe.

Jamie Overton, presented with his Somerset cap during the lunch interval, celebrated with an unbeaten 40 from as many balls, the pace bowler sharing a stand of 51 with Abell in 14 overs.

Maharaj trapped Abell for the highest-score of 66 and, two balls later, removed Josh Davey in similar style, denying Somerset a batting point that could yet prove crucial.

Lyth struck two leg-side sixes off Davey early in the Yorkshire reply, the second of which, a pull towards the dressing rooms, took him past 10,000 first-class runs for the county.

But the Yorkshire openers fell in the space of five balls: Will Fraine was caught behind off Gregory and Lyth caught behind off Davey, both players defending off the back foot.

At 27-2, Somerset sniffed a late-afternoon collapse, but Ballance and Tom Kohler-Cadmore added 43 in 14 overs before Ballance fell in the penultimate over.

It just kept Somerset in it on a day which Maharaj spun the way of the county of Sir Geoffrey.