Essex v Hampshire, Chelmsford, 2nd day April 30, 2013

Essex look to Cook for assistance

Hampshire 197 and 77 for 2 lead Essex 254 (Napier 74, Cook 59) by 20 runs

Such is the professionalism of the England team these days that there has never been a higher expectation that when England players return to their county sides in the Championship, they will deliver. That was certainly the case for Joe Root in Yorkshire's victory at Durham and here, Essex need Alastair Cook to bring some stability to their season.

Cook's status, as England's captain, could hardly be more proven. He strolls around Chelmsford with an easy charm which tells of achievements already secured and challenges to come. Essex value his presence all the same as they seek to arrest a disturbing start to the season.

Halfway through this match, Hampshire, strongly fancied for promotion, have edged to a lead of 20 runs, their second innings creeping along at two-an-over. They lost Michael Carberry and Jimmy Adams to David Masters' new-ball spell, Carberry falling to a fast catch by Ben Foakes off the meat of the bat at forward short leg.

It would be understandable if Essex, an innings defeat against Northamptonshire still fresh in the mind, are already hankering after Cook to produce a matchwinning response in the fourth innings. He will be back with England in a flash, but at the moment temporary assistance is welcome.

Cook batted in an orderly fashion as if intent upon gently attuning his mind to the approaching demands of two back-to-back Ashes series. He proceeded without much ado for more than four hours - 176 balls for 59 - before James Tomlinson found a little swing around leg stump and had him lbw.

"It's been Alastair at his most restrained," observed one Essex member as she gazed over the sunlit River Cam at lunchtime. The observation came with a wistful sigh as if she would like to mother him. She sounded like a proud parent, recognising that her offspring had grown up and gone on to better things, but half wishing she could have held back the clock.

At 73 for 6, Essex were in a pickle, the score doing little for the well-being of Paul Grayson, the coach, who was unwell. But Cook stayed on long enough to add a few appealing condiments. The bracing ingredients came, though, from Graham Napier, who struck 74 from 105 balls to give Essex a useful first-innings lead of 57. Their last four wickets added 181.

Napier lost his T20 world record for six-hitting last week when Chris Gayle struck 17 in one knock in his IPL rampage for Royal Challengers Bangalore. Napier had hit 16 for Essex against Sussex Sharks in 2008 and Essex actually delayed a practice session at Northampton to watch Gayle take his record.

Napier felt obliged to pronounce himself "a bit gutted", which is presumably even worse than gutted, on the grounds that some of the bones are left in, but he is an easy-going, uncomplicated sort who will not fret that he has lost part of his place in cricket history - he still jointly holds the first-class record for most sixes in an innings. He found the going strikingly easier than anybody (at least until Tim Phillips hit with gusto for 40 from at No. 10), although there was only one six, a pick-up over midwicket off the left-arm spinner Danny Briggs.

Over lunch the first sun warning of the summer was given on the Chelmsford public address. These are routinely made on county grounds whenever the temperature creeps above about 14 degrees. No sooner was the announcement made than the sun went in and a chill wind took hold again. Such warnings are probably just as well when Cook bats because famously he never sweats and could presumably create a misleading impression. It is a wonder Health & Safety have not banned him because of it.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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  • paul on May 1, 2013, 17:34 GMT

    All right, MR. AMAZING has saved Essex's blushes. Pettini did his bit as well. But in essence only Masters and Napier come out of this game with any significant pride in the overall game. Something is wrong. This result paints over the cracks.

  • paul on May 1, 2013, 15:47 GMT

    I'm sorry but there does need to be a change made at the top of this Essex team. This no knee jerk reaction. The team has been going downhill for a number of years and this current match is just the icing on the cake. It seems to me that have 1 really good bowler in Masters and apart from Cook and Westley and Napier, none of the others deserve to playing. in the 1st team. Bopara is in for his batting not bowling. Phillips is not a great spinner. What on earth has Foakes done to get in the team. " run outs in this innings is a joke. Foster relieved of the captaincy and Grayson to leave, imo, whether we win or not.

  • paul on May 1, 2013, 15:21 GMT

    Well Essex don't do anything easy, 24/3 and only need under 150 needed with a whole day and a session to get the runs and with beautiful sunny weather. Westley has a double run out in the match to his name. Also, Bopara, a big fat 0, might be bowling ok but he will be selected for any test match based on his batting. I am afraid for him, he is way, way behind Root and Bairstow. Time for the Aussie opener to earn his keep, i'd say.

  • paul on May 1, 2013, 14:47 GMT

    Well, by gosh, what has happened to the Chelmsford wicket, this season. Normally favouring the batting and Hants dismissed under 200. We surely can win now only needings 140 or so. A big well done to Masters,YET AGAIN, Bopara Napier, Cook and Phiilips, as of now, come on Essex , you can do it!!!!!!!!

  • paul on May 1, 2013, 11:56 GMT

    It is a pity that Essex have to rely on Masters so much. I know Napier did good in the last match, but he is imo is more of a second change bowler. Our spinners are pants, no quality. I am really surprised they did not play the guy who came from Lancs. I am not surprised they dropped Mills and Chambers. As for the batting i am surprised Pettini and Foakes were retained. I may be pessimistic but i don't think our batting is good enough to win this match.

  • Luke on May 1, 2013, 6:21 GMT

    LOL @ the final paragraph!

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