Essex 281 for 3 (Browne 127, Walter 57*) vs Somerset
Essex’s Championship challenge foundered at The Kia Oval a few days ago and as spectators gathered again at Chelmsford, the air was thick with inquests. It was thick with humidity, too, which is about as close as it has got to raining in these parts this summer, and in that atmosphere, Nick Browne reminded everyone of his worth with his second hundred of the season.
Somerset, who find themselves part of a West Country bottom two, had imagined they were catching Essex at a good time with their title ambitions over – although an even better time would have been with Simon Harmer absent with South Africa for the upcoming Test series against England. As it was, Browne supervised a successful Essex day, batting the entire day for 129 out of 281 for 3.
Chelmsford remains parched. It gets roughly half the annual rain that falls upon the likes of Manchester and Cardiff in an average summer. The outfield at the River End of the ground is in a terrible state, worn and bumpy with drainage ditches clearly visible. Field in this area at your peril.
Centuries have tended to come this season from Essex’s more celebrated opener, Alastair Cook, who has made four of their 10 in the Championship this season. Browne, a big, lumbering sort, often guarded in his strokeplay, is not really designed to wrest attention, but he is the most wholehearted of cricketers. They remain an opening partnership to be reckoned with and he played well.
Browne told blithely how he and Cook used to keep a tally over the season about who got out first before it was abandoned for his own good. “It is always hard to get out after him,” he said. “We used to have a little competition but I always seemed to lose it because he is too good.”
How many England players as distinguished as Cook will remain true to county cricket in the future? Nearly four years have passed since he bowed out of Test cricket against India at The Oval, but he appears to have settled back into Championship life with equanimity and he looked untroubled in making 44 before Peter Siddle cut one back to have him lbw, the third time he has dismissed him in the Championship this season.
The extension of Marcus Trescothick’s career in county cricket with Somerset felt like a prolonged farewell tour with the Taunton crowd outpouring its gratitude for every extra season, almost every extra run. Trescothick’s presence at Somerset was heartfelt, of course, because of the mental health issues that had ended his England career prematurely. Essex’s ties with Cook, while just as strong, are perhaps more understated; less emotional. Both, though, might be figures from a different age.
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With England now pulling around 30 players out of county cricket from an early age to feed a never-ending international schedule, and with the future county fixture list once again awash with uncertainty, it invites questions whether club loyalties of the best players can possibly remain as strong in a changing landscape. Then you think of Joe Root and imagining him settling back with Yorkshire many years from hence and maybe for some it remains perfectly possible. Perhaps it is not the nature of the competition, but the nature of the man.
Essex’s opening pair are easy to tell apart: Cook, willowy and contemplative, accumulating quietly, rarely drawing attention to himself; Browne, more hunched and thick-set and capable of occasional moments of pugnacity, his speciality the sort of punched drive through extra cover, off Siddle that brought him a most diligent hundred. He had sweated it out for 13 balls on 99, including a play-and-miss against Kasey Aldridge, one of the few times his outside edge was beaten. Siddle, who has also played at Essex awarded it a fist-bump of respect.
During the morning, Somerset had an injury scare for Craig Overton, who has been released by England to play in this match. He limped away from an over after having problems with the footholes, and also missed part of the morning session after jarring his shoulder in the field.
All Somerset’s wickets on an unresponsive pitch came in the afternoon session. Tom Westley drove at Overton, back with no long-term damage, to be caught at slip, and Dan Lawrence slumped in disbelief when he cut the last ball of the afternoon session, a wide long-hop from Matt Renshaw, an occasional offspinner, to slip. Renshaw finished off a wearying day by bowling Browne a bouncer off a few paces which he duly ducked underneath.
Paul Walter had his aggressive moments for an unbeaten 57, never more so than when he lofted Jack Leach for a straight six during 27 unrewarding overs for England’s premier spin bowler. Few anticipate that Harmer will be as unproductive as the game progresses.