Essex v Worcestershire, Chelmsford, 2nd day September 4, 2013

Foakes can break Essex mould

Vithushan Ehantharajah at Chelmsford

Worcestershire 102 and 163 for 3 (Pardoe 74*, Mitchell 62) trail Essex 351 (Smith 94, Foakes 71, Mickleburgh 65, Napier 64*, Richardson 4-92) by 86 runs

It seems not a day goes by that a former Essex academy product leaves the confines of Chelmsford to yield performances above and beyond anything they produced before.

Maurice Chambers is the latest to enjoy pastures new; five Division One wickets on Warwickshire debut after moving on loan to Edgbaston to quell their squad woes, joining the Essex alumni and Championship winners Varun Chopra and Chris Wright.

Chambers' last game for Essex came in an innings defeat to Northamptonshire; a game in which Paul Grayson felt compelled to issue a public apology for what he described as a "shambolic display". When word came through to Chelsmford of his four wickets in the game against Nottinghamshire, one observer remarked: "It's almost enough to make you laugh".

His is another name on a list continually waved in Essex faces as a damning indictment of their inability to nurture precocious talents after graduation. But, if you'll allow the This is Sparta-type bluntness, perhaps only the truly strong survive?

Alastair Cook, England's Test and one day captain, has stayed put - his picture overlooking commuters as they make their way down the stairs at Chelmsford station - as has Ravi Bopara, who registered his maiden one day international century yesterday against Ireland.

So what say you of Ben Foakes?

There is a quiet group of optimists around the club who feel that Foakes may be one of the most talented players to come through the academy in the last 10 years, and maybe even longer. "Certainly more naturally gifted than Cook," one punter began, resorting to heresy, "who knows, maybe even Gooch."

It's one heck of a shout. But there are times when you watch the 20 year-old - whether batting for Essex or sub-fielding for England - when you feel that it all just fits so well. For someone so young, he wears the weight of so many expectations so nonchalantly, you might mistake them for a pair of Beats headphones.

When Ryan ten Doeschate went in the fourth over of the day, Foakes took little notice and became entrenched in a battle with county warlock Alan Richardson. Impeccable in defence, he pushed back Richardson's length, before picking him off on the back foot with a couple of lovely drives through mid-on and midwicket.

Just before James Foster's departure, he nearly caused one of them a calamitous demise - his over-exuberance resulting in both batsmen at the same end, only spared by a wayward throw from the deep. His fifty came off 88 balls, before he hit the shot of the match - a wristy on-drive for four - two balls later.

He was joined by Graham Napier, in his 16th year of first-class cricket at Essex which is already his best with the bat and soon to be with the ball, too. He notched up his seventh fifty of the season with some crisp, clean hits from lovely shots and one barbaric thump down the ground for six which took him from 49 to 55.

Undoubtedly one of the best No. 8 batsmen in the country, his temperament in all forms has held together a side that has often struggled to come close to the sum of their parts. Who knows what might have been if Napier's efforts with the bat were more of a bonus than a godsend.

In truth, the pair should have taken Essex past 400. But Foakes fell after lunch to Richardson, who then picked up his fourth wicket when he deceived David Masters with a change of pace. The end came soon after, with the wickets of Reece Topley and Monty Panesar falling to Jack Shantry in successive balls, giving Essex a first innings lead of 249.

Worcestershire's openers Daryl Mitchell and Matthew Pardoe took the score past their team's entire first effort in the 37th over, in serene batting conditions. Pardoe remained unbeaten at stumps, but the wickets of Mitchell, Moeen Ali and Tom Fell keep the prospect of an innings victory for the hosts alive.

Panesar has two wickets to his name, but was out-bowled and out-spun by Greg Smith, who has been encouraged to work further on his spin due to a side injury earlier this season. Panesar did improve towards the end, and bowled a very good final over with a bit more zest that, should he be able to replicate on Thursday, could see him register eye-catching figures in a comprehensive win.