Essex 39 for 1 trail Gloucestershire 262 (Roderick 88*, Marshall 51, Napier 3-57, Porter 3-59) by 223 runs
What effect will one up from Division Two have?
It will be with some relief that the ECB will receive reports before too long that this season Carter’s Steam Fair – the world’s largest vintage travelling fun fair – has this time set up its stalls and marquees on the other bank of the River Can.
There have been times in recent seasons when the circus marquees seemed to have been erected on the Chelmsford square with tumblers a plenty to be found on the most responsive pitches in the country. An opposing captain choosing to bat risked been offered a contract with the clowns, and pointed in the general direction of the top hats and red noses, but Gloucestershire’s captain Gareth Roderick did just that and personally ensured that he was not immediately punished by his brazen disregard of history by making an unbeaten 88.
There was an influence brought to bear in all this. Considerable evidence will be needed to judge the ECB’s historic decision to give the opposing captain the right to bowl first this season, without recourse to a toss, in an attempt to improve pitches. But there will be initial satisfaction that even in Essex, considering that the opening day of the Championship season had been preceded by enough dank weather for Premier League footballers to be still wearing mittens, there was a learned contest between bat and ball.
April pitches, however, are bound to be sappy and, from 164 for 6, Gloucestershire would have been satisfied to emerge with 262, around par, and to have 16 overs at Essex on the first evening. Within six balls, England’s captain, Alastair Cook, had adopted the hands-on-hips stance at the non-striker’s end that signifies the loss of his batting partner – Nick Browne lbw to Liam Norwell – but Cook found a sound ally in Tom Westley, no more damage was done and Essex’s powerful batting line-up has the chance on the second day to make an early pronouncement that this season they can mount a serious Division Two title challenge.
Chris Silverwood, Essex’s new head coach, is committed, irrespective of ECB toss regulations, to better cricket pitches and he has recruited with that in mind, strengthening Essex’s seam bowling roster by bringing in two dual-national pace bowlers: Western Australian Matt Dixon and New Zealander Matt Quinn.
Quinn had only just arrived so rested out. It seemed wise enough, although he might have been the target of the first utterance overheard on walking into the ground: “It’s a farce – they’re all molly coddled these days.” So another county season begins where ambitious young cricketers are regularly denounced by predominantly elderly members who secretly cherish their presence like little else in the world.
Dixon, who has expressed a desire to build a “10 to 15-year career”, looked a solid acquisition as he removed both openers, although there was little distinguished in the ball that bowled Chris Dent, who dragged on a wide half-volley. His slender new-ball partner, Jamie Porter, lacked the same consistency, but included three middle-order wickets in his 4 for 59.
Essex caught wonderfully well, Porter the beneficiary on each occasion as Cook snapped up Ian Cockbain at first slip and Jesse Ryder sprung low to his right at backward point to silence Hamish Marshall’s threatening half-century with Gloucestershire wresting control at 143 for 3. The best catch of all, though, was a combo between Westley, who flung himself to his left at second slip to knock up Kieran Noema-Barnett’s edge for Dan Lawrence to complete the job at third.
Essex’s balance was slightly batsman-heavy with the new-ball attack supported by a trio of medium-pacers and, although Graham Napier’s burst of 3 for 1 in six balls wrapped up the tail, their effectiveness can be expected to decline as the summer wears on.
Ryder’s constitutionals brought him 44 Championship wickets at 25.45 last summer, the most affable of approaches followed by something more threatening when the seam hit the pitch. As he offered up temptation, one wondered how Ryder the batsman would respond to Ryder the bowler. It would not be too long, you would wager, before there would be an almighty flay in the general direction of extra cover.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo