Ducks for Root and Cook, 22 wickets fall - just part of a bizarre Chelmsford day
Yorkshire 50 (Cook 5-28, Siddle 4-7) and 161 for 2 (Bairstow 50, Brook 57*) lead Essex 142 (Bresnan 3-26, Coad 3-27, Brooks 3-63, Lawrence 48, Harmer 36) by 69 runs
There's a scene in Where Eagles Dare in which Richard Burton with solid support from Clint Eastwood reveals the identity of the Nazi double agent contained within a notebook. The notebook, perplexingly, is empty. The agent is both revealed within its covers and yet simultaneously not there. Shroedinger's double-agent if you will. Burton delivers every line with mesmeric and gravelly perfection, but after watching that film at least a dozen times, I defy anyone to make sense of what the hell is going on.
For Burton and Eastwood read Sam Cook and Peter Siddle. Given the opportunity to bowl first on a brownish pitch under cloudless skies after Yorkshire elected for and won the toss, they delivered their lines and lengths with irreproachable professionalism and no little flair, but Yorkshire's batsmen were in no mood to match them.
To call the Yorkshire innings a procession would be to do a grave disservice to processions in modest churches up and down the land. It more resembled an unseemly stampede to the bar by smokers in a pub garden on hearing the bell for last orders. The upshot was their lowest first-class score since 1973.
Cook made the initial breakthrough in his first over when Harry Brook poked hesitantly at a ball just outside his off stump and guided the ball into Harmer's enormous mitts at second slip, but this merely brought Che Pujara to the wicket. Yorkshire had also "strengthened" their batting with the inclusion of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, granted leave by the ECB to get some much needed middle practice before the Test series against Pakistan begins in three weeks time, so the visitors boasted five recent and current front line international batsmen in their top six.
None presented a problem for Cook. In his second over he induced a thin edge from Lyth through to the evergreen Foster which brought forth Joe Root, shuffling and sidewinding into the middle for his first innings since April 1st. A bumper crowd got to see the familiar guard, the couple of paces to square-leg, the look round the field and one firm push at a ball beautifully landed on an off-stump line that travelled gently into the gleeful hands of his former captain Alastair Cook at first slip.
Then 9 for 3 swiftly became 11 for 4 when Pujara was trapped lbw by Jamie Porter. Pujara was less than gruntled at the decision, but he wouldn't be the last man to be undone by moderately low bounce from the Hayes Close End.
Cook was not yet done with wrecking England's Test match preparations. Next to go was Bairstow, bowled by the ball of the day; a beauty that held its line and thudded into off-stump. By the time he had Bresnan trapped in front it truly was a Wonderful Life for Cook as he registered his third five wicket haul in just his sixth championship appearance.
His 5 for 28 was notable for great control. He was willing to pitch the ball up and make the most of what movement there was off a helpful but far from capricious pitch, was supported by superb close fielding and was aided by a truly abysmal display by Yorkshire with the bat.
By the time Siddle had wrapped up the tail with a spell of 4 for 7 in 22 balls, Yorkshire had been obliterated in just 18.4 overs before lunch for 50, coincidentally exactly the same length of time it took for Australia to be famously dismissed at Trent Bridge in 2015.
Sages shook their heads in bewilderment but resembled teenage headbangers by the time Alastair Cook wafted a catch to Bairstow - the second England captain to make a duck in a couple of hours - and Tom Westley played a shot uglier than a Communist-era Bucharest tower block, hurling an injudicious bat at an away swinger from Brooks and dragging back on to his middle stump to depart first ball.
The opening session had yielded 61 runs for the loss of 12 wickets. By this stage, four of England's regular top seven last summer had been dismissed for seven runs between them.
The afternoon session produced no let-up in the mayhem. Ben Coad and Tim Bresnan, showing due deference to the eternal verities of line of length but at no great pace, made the ball do "just enough", and Bresnan in particular exploited the tendency of the ball to keep slightly (but really only slightly) lower from the Hayes Close End and was rewarded with a couple of lbws for his troubles.
Dan Lawrence tried the novel tactic (up to this point) of going hell for leather and for a while looked to have cracked the code with a 77 ball 48, up to that point by far the most authoritative, if still somehow skittish innings of the day. But aside from a late flurry from Simon Harmer (36) who briefly cover drove with the elegance of Wally Hammond, left the ball with the acuity of Steve Smith and marshalled what was left of the tail better than Angelo Mathews, Essex's innings offered little more sense of permanence than the Mayfly effort that had preceded it.
Three wickets apiece for Bresnan, Coad and Brooks had done the damage and tea was taken with Essex bowled out and in possession of a more than handy 92 run lead.
Record books were dusted down. When was the last time a match was completed in one day (1960 Kent v Worcestershire since you ask)? Might Essex be in a position to take claim the extra half hour? Would this day ever end?
Yorkshire decided to counter attack themselves. Bairstow replaced Brook at the top of the order and went after the new ball. His 44-ball 50 was full of familiar punch drives and lofted shots over the infield. Siddle managed to get the ball changed, immediately bowled Bairstow and had Lyth nibbling to second slip. At 96 for 2, Yorkshire were just in front but a late flurry of wickets would send them back to square one.
Enter Brook. The press box in Chelmsford was full of the great and the good, all come to watch Root, Cook, Bairstow, Pujara, maybe Ballance and Lawrence. Instead it was the 19-year-old Brook who provided the innings of the day. Entirely untroubled, possessed of a sound technique and keen to rotate the strike, his was the only performance that will have excited the selectors.
Marshalling Yorkshire, in tandem with Pujara to 161 for 2 at the close, and a more than useful lead of 65, he has the opportunity tomorrow truly to overshadow his more illustrious colleagues. Root, however, may yet have a say in that.
The pitch did ease as the day went on. Wise locals will tell you that it's hardest to bat on day one, but I defy anyone to watch today's play 12 times and explain to me what the hell was going on.