County Championship - day two (close)

Somerset 236 & 159-3 v Middlesex 142

JAMES Hildreth and Tom Abell shared an unbeaten century stand as Somerset ended day two with a lead of 253 runs against Middlesex in Taunton.

Jack Leach (4-54) and Craig Overton (3-7) earlier helped dismiss the visitors for 142 and, after the loss of three early wickets, Somerset rebuilt effectively on a pitch which was not the minefield it is being portrayed as in some quarters.

Middlesex resumed on 18-3 after a tricky start on Monday evening, and Somerset began where they had left off with the ball as visiting skipper Adam Voges skipped down the wicket and chipped Dom Bess to Tom Abell.

The away side were then 22-5 when Josh Simpson was run out by a Bess direct hit, but the hosts' momentum was halted by a counter-attacking partnership between Dawid Malan and Paul Stirling.

The pair added 73 for the sixth wicket before Malan was pinned lbw by Leach for 38, which included four 4s and two 6s, and Stirling (41) followed shortly afterwards to the same bowler as Steve Davies pulled off a sharp stumping.

Middlesex's tail did not linger for long, as Steven Finn (1) fell lbw to van der Merwe before Overton was brought into the attack to finish the innings immediately after lunch.

The 23-year-old completed the task swiftly, sending the middle stump of James Harris (19) cartwheeling before Ravi Patel (0) drove straight to van der Merwe as the innings was ended on 142, handing Somerset a lead of 96.

Somerset's second innings did not get off to the brightest of starts, as both Eddie Byrom and George Bartlett fell for five apiece to leave the hosts 26-2.

Byrom perished trying to attack, succeeding only in picking out Harris at mid-off from the bowling of Stirling, while Bartlett fell lbw to Patel attempting to play into the leg side.

Experienced pair Marcus Trescothick and James Hildreth took the score to 59, at which point the former was lbw to one that jagged back in from Harris and had to depart for 31.

That proved to be the last wicket of the day as Abell and Hildreth showed what could be achieved by digging in, playing patiently and waiting for the bad ball.

Hildreth brought up a vital half-century from 98 balls and Abell was playing sensibly alongside him, while sharp running between the wickets kept the pressure on the visiting fielders.

The skipper began to express himself as the evening session wore on, lifting Adam Voges for a glorious six over extra cover, and the pair took their partnership to exactly 100 by the close of play.

Hildreth will resume on 82 and Abell on 34, and the pair are now tasked with helping Somerset to an imposing lead tomorrow.

With rain forecast for the afternoon, however, Abell may have a difficult decision to make as to how long he feels his bowling attack will need to bowl Middlesex out for a second time.

A draw would do for the visitors, who would have no necessity to attack, while Somerset have to win the game in order to stay up - two days of intriguing cricket lie in wait.

There will also be no further comment on the pitch by Cricket Liaision Officer Wayne Noon, who - having initially planned to make a statement today - will now comment at the end of the match.

Speaking at the close of play, James Hildreth said: "The initial mindset was to scrap for every run, as a lead on this wicket is vital.

"It gets easier as you play yourself in and you get used to the spin, and in the context of the season it's probably the best I've played.

"There is still enough spin there if you put the ball in the right areas, but if you apply yourself there are runs to be scored on this pitch.

"Going into a game with a mindset that 'this is a poor wicket' is not a great approach - it is a great test for the batsmen.

"Tomorrow our approach will be similar - wait for the bad ball and look to build the lead."