Cook continues to shine for Essex

Alastair Cook made a patient half-century as Essex reached 335 for three to continue their fine start to the Specsavers County Championship Division Two summer by dominating the opening day against Northamptonshire at the Essex County Ground. 

Like Cook, Nick Browne and Tom Westley were dismissed in the sixties, before Ravi Bopara reached the close 57 not out.

Cook struggled for fluency early on after Northamptonshire captain Alex Wakely invited the home side to bat first without a toss.

The England Test captain, who took 38 balls to hit a boundary and 42 to sneak out of double figures, was dropped on three by Rory Kleinveldt at first slip off Muhammad Azhar Ullah as Essex made it to lunch unscathed.

Browne looked far more at ease. He drove with elegance through the covers, and twice down the ground, but could have been run out by David Murphy at backward point on 10.

On a placid surface, Northants’ bowling lacked potency and Browne was quick to profit, reaching his half-century from 87 balls with a typically attractive drive. By the break Cook was into his stride too, consecutively flicking and cutting Josh Cobb for fours.

Shortly after lunch, however, Browne prodded half-forward at Ben Sanderson and was well caught by the diving Richard Levi at first slip. 

With the weather brighter – although no warmer – Cook settled in the company of Westley, sharing a stand of 80 and bringing up his half-century from 127 balls. 

Cook edged a pull just wide of the wicketkeeper but was otherwise unperturbed – cutting beautifully and even unfurling a fine cover drive – until he was drawn into an edge by Richard Gleeson and caught at the wicket.

Cook seemed as surprised as all those watching that his concentration had been broken and he had missed out on a third century of the season.

Westley’s was the classiest innings of the lot. He drove on the up with rare quality and he was attractive and effective through midwicket.

Three times he drove down the ground between the umpire and mid-on in reaching his fifty from 62 balls with a typically fine flick to the leg-side boundary, although once again a new session brought a wicket, as Sanderson – who was the pick of the bowlers with 2-79 – nipped one back through the gate.

From there, Bopara and Dan Lawrence played within themselves to guide Essex to stumps.

There was occasional evidence of the pair’s elegance – Bopara played a nonchalant flick off Sanderson before tea, as well as a fine pull off Gleeson – but few risks were taken as Essex navigated their way into a position of dominance, picking up three batting points along the way. 

Both batsmen survived shouts for leg before with the new ball from Azhar Ullah, before going on to grind the Northamptonshire bowlers down.

The players went off at 6.03pm for bad light but returned 25 minutes later, which proved long enough for Bopara – now looking far freer – to bring up his first half-century of the season from 125 balls with a trio of leg-side boundaries.

Browne said: “To only lose three wickets in a day is a good day’s play, especially when you score at a good rate.

“It would have been nice if one of us had converted a fifty, but four fifties in a day you have to take that. The pitch is good but there are good balls in it too.

“Cook and I played well at the start against the new ball, you’re going to play and miss. We had a couple of slices of luck. It makes it easier later on and the other lads piled in.”

Sanderson said: “We have been a bit unlucky today. We bowled in the right areas and found the edge a couple of time and it’s not gone our way.

Other days we could have had 3 or 4 early and been into them. Hopefully we get a few more tomorrow.”

Source: ECB

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