County Championship: Somerset leave Hampshire sizeable run chase

Somerset opener Azhar Ali
Azhar Ali's 79 was his highest Championship score of the season so far for Somerset
Specsavers County Championship Division One, Cooper Associates County Ground, Taunton (day three):
Somerset 408: Hildreth 105; Abbott 6-84 & 358-8 dec: Azhar Ali 79, Banton 70
Hampshire 349: Northeast 101; J Overton 5-70 & 12-1
Hampshire (6 pts) require 406 more runs to beat Somerset (8 pts)
Scorecard

Division One leaders Somerset set Hampshire a target of 418 to win their County Championship match at Taunton.

Somerset wrapped up Hampshire's first innings for 349 on the third morning before setting about extending their 59-run advantage.

Tom Abell (58) and Azhar Ali (79) added 110 runs in 23 overs before lunch in a positive opening partnership.

Tom Banton made 70 before a declaration on 358-8. The visitors then lost Oliver Soames for a duck to close on 12-1.

On a pair, Soames had already survived a big lbw shout off Lewis Gregory in the first over, but then played on to the very next ball to be dismissed without scoring for the second time in the match.

Defeat would be hugely damaging to third-placed Hampshire's County Championship title prospects, as a Somerset victory would create a 45-point gap between the two sides with six games left to play.

Somerset were able to seize control of the match on the third day thanks to their openers, who gave their second innings the perfect start with a stand of 128.

Captain Abell was bowled by Keith Barker shortly after reaching his second half-century of the match.

Pakistan batsman Azhar then progressed to his highest Championship score of the season before he diverted a Kyle Abbott bouncer to James Fuller at third man.

Somerset batsman Tom Banton:

"We talked about getting a lead of 400 and then pulling out towards the end of the day. That's how it worked out and, if we bowl well, we now have a very good chance of winning.

"I try not to overthink about my batting. I go out there and treat each ball on its merits. If it is my day then great, if not there is always another one.

"I've been working hard in the nets with Marcus Trescothick, looking to play as straight as possible. As my career in red ball cricket develops I'll try to play more shots, maybe sweeping and reverse sweeping.

"It's been nice to get runs in this game. The other day Fidel Edwards came up to me and said he would give me £20 if I survived his spell. I'm still waiting for it!"

Hampshire seamer Keith Barker told BBC Solent:

"When you don't start a game well, as was the case with us here, you can find yourself up against it and we are facing an uphill battle from this position.

"It is not an impossible one because the pitch has been good to bat on and bowlers have been punished when not getting balls in the right areas. We have to scrap as hard as we can.

"The injuries to Tom Alsop and Joe Weatherley make it even more of an uphill task. But if we can dig in from the start we still have a chance.

"I was pleased with my bowling and how we bowled as a unit for much of the day. There were some tired legs towards the end and Somerset took advantage."

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