Tom Westley continued his productive start to the season with an important 86 as he held Essex’s reply together on the second day of their Specsavers County Championship match against Sussex at the 1st Central County Ground, Hove.
After England Test captain Alastair Cook had gone for one, Westley fell just 14 runs short of making his third first-class hundred of the season following 110 against Cambridge MCCU and 121 versus Gloucestershire.
The 27-year-old had not played a false shot until he attempted to pull a ball off left-arm spinner Danny Briggs and was caught at midwicket, having faced 153 deliveries and hit 14 fours including three in an over off Ollie Robinson.
Essex, replying to Sussex’s 360, needed Westley’s resilience against a persevering attack who shared the wickets around as the visitors reached 252 for seven before bad light ended the second day with 13 overs not bowled.
Jesse Ryder, with 51, helped Westley add 83 in 23 overs for the fifth wicket in the most productive stand, but Essex spent much of the rest of the day rebuilding on a wicket which occasionally offered good bounce for the seamers and some slow turn for Briggs.
After Jamie Porter had wrapped up Sussex’s first innings by picking up two wickets in successive balls in the first over of the day, all eyes were on Cook and in particular his choice of helmet after he had been advised by the ECB to wear their approved head gear with its fixed grille.
Cook, watched by England Assistant Coach Paul Farbrace, had barely got used to his new lid when Steve Magoffin got one to seam away and he was taken at second slip by Chris Nash in the third over.
The Sussex seamers bowled well as a unit. Robinson took a tumbling return catch off Nick Browne’s looping inside edge while 19-year-old George Garton again impressed as he picked up two wickets.
The left-armer had Ravi Bopara caught behind off the glove for 17 and then claimed James Foster after tea for 14 via an inside edge.
Magoffin picked up Dan Lawrence in his second spell when he pushed forward to another delivery which nipped away off the seam and after Westley’s departure, Ajmal Shahzad benefitted from a change of ends to remove Ryder, who had just reached a 70-ball half-century, caught at second slip.
Briggs bowled 22 economical overs unchanged either side of tea and deserved Westley’s wicket but his figures were spoiled by Ryan ten Doeschate, who struck successive sixes down the ground in his unbeaten 32.
In worsening light, the Essex captain and Graham Napier put on an unbroken 33 for the eighth wicket before umpires Tim Robinson and Paul Baldwin took the teams off.