Westley impresses after Cook's grilling

Essex 252 for 7 (Westley 86, Ryder 51) trail Sussex 360 (Nash 119, Joyce 61, Robinson 51) by 108 runs

Alastair Cook trudges off after making 1 from five balls in his first innings with his ECB-approved new helmet © Getty Images

Alastair Cook‘s exploratory first outing in a new helmet ended after five balls but that was the worst of the impermanence from an Essex side doggedly battling to prove their credentials as Division Two promotion challengers at Hove. Cook scored just 1 in his first innings wearing ECB-approved headgear and spent most of the day ensconced in the changing rooms, barring a quick rendezvous with a familiar face in the shape of England’s assistant coach, Paul Farbrace.

Cook seems resigned to the fact he will have to get used to a helmet with a fixed grille, with England hopeful that he can make the required adjustments before the start of the Test summer next month. While the ECB has been quietly urging Cook to come into line with new safety regulations, the prospect of England’s captain suffering a dip in form over the issue – he made a century for Essex batting in his old England helmet last week – may cause some disquiet at Lord’s.

As well as coming to terms with a narrower window in which to sight the ball, there is also the matter of modified helmets weighing more than the old style. Some have pointed out that picking up a delivery early is an equally important aspect of batsman safety. Cook is an old-fashioned batsman in more ways than one – although with 24,000 runs to his name in senior cricket perhaps that is unsurprising – and Michael Atherton, another former England captain and opener, has suggested he should be allowed to make the decision for himself.

No opener likes to be out in the third over and Cook concealed his emotions pretty well after falling to his first ball from Steve Magoffin, but it was not hard to imagine a fresh blast of salty sea air accompanying his return to the changing rooms. Still, as Essex’s batting coach, Anthony McGrath, pragmatically put it: “As an opener against the new ball you’re going to get a few low scores.”

Cook would surely have preferred not to be facing a bowler as metronomically exacting outside off stump as Magoffin for this unwanted trial. Having survived four deliveries from Ollie Robinson from the Sea End, he was dismissed pushing at one in the channel, a thick edge flying low to second slip. The lid stayed firmly on for the slow walk back, although some wag hollering “Wrong helmet!” from the deckchairs probably did not help his equilibrium. Not since David Beckham was pictured in a sarong has there been so much attention on what an England player is wearing.

There was far less focus on Essex’s No. 3, though Tom Westley ought to have caught the eye of Farbrace, huddled on a bench at the Cromwell Road End. Westley looked in good touch, having scored a century in Essex’s opening-round win over Gloucestershire and another in the university match at Fenners, and it was something of a surprise when he mistimed a pull against Danny Briggs and gave a simple catch to midwicket.

Nevertheless, Westley’s 86 meant he now has 397 first-class runs this season, the most in the country, and he provided the Essex innings with its ballast. He might have been run out on 31, had Robinson’s throw been more accurate, and an edge flashed over the slips for four from the final ball before lunch but his class was otherwise evident. A high front elbow that bore the menace of a shark fin in shallow waters accompanied one straight drive off Robinson, while on another occasion he dealt with George Garton‘s pace with the sort of dismissive pull reminiscent of Cook.

Garton, 19 years of age and whippy of left-arm action, was not so easily shrugged off by the rest of Essex’s batsmen. Ravi Bopara gloved behind during his first spell and he returned later in the day to strike Ryan ten Doeschate a blow on the arm that necessitated a short delay for treatment from the physio. He also removed James Foster, who played on while hanging back in his crease, and did enough to suggest that Sussex’s pace reserves are not as thin as some have feared.

Briggs, meanwhile, enjoyed the sort of extended workout he switched south-coast allegiances for, a 22-over spell of stately twirling and gentle entreaties to the umpire. Briggs looks like he would be an excellent maître d, upright and dexterous, with a suitably enigmatic smile; it would not be a surprise to hear he applies a squirt of L’Air de Panache – as favoured by Monsieur Gustav in The Grand Budapest Hotel – during intervals.

He was, however, twice clubbed down the ground for six from consecutive balls by ten Doeschate, an unceremonious attempt by the Essex captain to rally his side from 219 for 7, with the floodlights shining down and a chill wind whipping in from the sea; the slow bowler’s equivalent of being told the cutlery is dirty and needs to be replaced.

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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