Lancashire batting fails again
Essex 226 and 120 for 2 (Cook 57*) lead Lancashire 177 (Cross 45, Phillips 3-20) by 169 runs
It may only be their third home match of the summer but already there are worrying signs that Lancashire's fragile batting may undermine their hopes of an immediate return to Division One. Having strengthened their top-order during the winter, their inability to post a competitive first-innings total has allowed Essex to take command at Old Trafford.
Their relegation summer last year was plagued with disappointing batting performances, with Lancashire dismissed for under 300 on 15 occasions. They were bowled out for fewer than 200 in eight matches. That record prompted Lancashire to secure the return of Ashwell Prince and persuade Simon Katich, the former Australia Test batsman, to help improve their batting options.
They also signed Wayne White, Leicestershire's promising allrounder, and provided with slow wickets on their opening two home matches, against Worcestershire and Kent, the recruitment policy appeared to work after they recorded first-innings totals of 448 and 395. Given a wicket with more pace and bounce, however, and the familiar failings returned.
Resuming 219 runs adrift, Lancashire were always facing a tough start to the day against Reece Topley and David Masters with the new ball and failed the test by slipping to 22 for 4. Once conditions eased, however, they were little better and were dismissed for 177 in 58.3 overs.
The consequences of another first-innings failure were laid bare by Alastair Cook battling through the new-ball spell to reach an unbeaten 57, with sights set on securing an emphatic Essex win on his final appearance before resuming England captaincy duties in next week's opening Test against New Zealand.
"It is a very disappointing day for us," Lancashire coach Peter Moores said. "We're not out of it yet but we certainly haven't helped our cause. Essex used the new ball well and put balls in the right areas and there were a couple of shots where the lads would think they could have done better.
"It's frustrating for us because the goal was to see off the new ball and build a decent platform to get up with them and then go on and get a decent first innings lead. We didn't do that and we're going to have to play very well second innings, but there is work to be done first in bowling them out."
None of Lancashire's batsmen showed the application demonstrated by Cook, or Graham Napier during his opening day century, and paid a heavy price as a consequence. Katich contributed an aggressive 23 off 26 balls but from the moment he fell lbw shuffling across his stumps to earn Sajid Mahmood his first Championship wicket for Essex, their hopes of reaching parity seemed remote.
Mahmood enjoyed the extra bounce generated from the Pavilion End on his Old Trafford return, but it was Tim Phillips, Essex's left-arm spinner, that secured their useful 49-run first innings lead. Gareth Cross showed signs of playing with a resolve required and added a promising 44 for their eighth wicket with White.
In sight of his first half-century of the season, however, Cross fell lbw five runs short attempting to sweep. That gave Phillips the first of three wickets and, with Cook's experience, Essex finished the day firmly in control.