SIMON Harmer claimed an 11th five-wicket haul of the campaign as Essex look to wrap up a second County Championship title in three seasons.

Roelof van der Merwe, who scored 60 runs, shared a last-wicket stand of 59 with Ashes hero Jack Leach before Somerset were dismissed for 203 on day two at Taunton.

With Somerset needing victory to claim their first County Championship crown, Anthony McGrath knows Essex must build on an encouraging first innings with the bat.

The Essex head coach, whose side will resume on day three on 25/0, said: “The pitch has turned from ball one and some have gone through the surface. But that is nothing to do with me and we play the conditions in front of us.

“Credit to van der Merwe and Leachy for what was a very good partnership.

“I think it had reached the stage where van der Merwe knew he had to take some chances and it came off for him.

“He was very positive against Simon Harmer, who has had a brilliant season, so fair play to him.

“We now have to bat well, but we are right in the game.”

Only 45.5 overs were possible after a delayed start until midday, much to the frustration of the home side, who resumed their first innings on 75/4 and need to win to overtake their opponents in the standings.

Their prospects looked bleak when Harmer and Sam Cook reduced them to 144/9 by early afternoon.

But, batting at number 10, van der Merwe smashed four sixes in a 42-ball half-century and England spinner Leach was unbeaten on 11.

The hosts were finally dismissed for 203, a total that could prove challenging on a pitch offering seam movement and turn.

Off-spinner Harmer conceded 105 runs in the process of taking five wickets, while seamer Sam Cook returned 4-26 from 19 overs.

Essex were left with 40 minutes to negotiate before tea.

Lewis Gregory and Craig Overton both went past the outside edge on several occasions, but Sir Alastair Cook and Nick Browne survived to post 25 without loss by the interval.

Browne contributed 16 runs to the total, while Cook will return to the crease this morning on five.

The rain then set in again as the players made their way off the Taunton pitch for tea, forcing umpires Alex Wharf and Rob Bailey to abandon play for the day at just before 5pm.

Essex will be crowned champions if they avoid defeat.