Essex complete thrilling recovery
Essex 94 (Footitt 5-29, Groenewald 5-44) and 425 (Cook 181, Westley 56, Foster 55*) beat Derbyshire 154 (Chanderpaul 75*, Masters 6-46) and 312 (Chanderpaul 52, Groenewald 52, Napier 3-49) by 53 runs
With Ravi Bopara strolling out to the middle to practise his bowling around an hour after the match had finished, you could imagine that Essex did not have to work too hard for victory on the final morning against Derbyshire. The margin of 53 runs ultimately was comfortable enough but a game that swung like the pendulum on a grandfather clock had life in it still, as long as Tim Groenewald's 33-ball fifty threatened further mischief for the home side.
Analogue timepieces are not so common in the digital world but four-day cricket remains a compelling spectacle, particularly when two teams scrap as gamely as Essex and Derbyshire did here. Lunch was delayed in order for Essex to complete the job and get their Championship season off to a successful start.
Graham Napier, who claimed two key wickets in the first hour before Groenewald threatened to run amok, expressed the satisfaction of winning after "four days of hard graft", a result that looked unlikely after Essex's flaccid batting display on Sunday.
"Being bowled out for 94 on the first day after lunch, you don't think you're going to win games from there," he said. "You might be able save them but to win them is not even in your thought process initially. To get ourselves back into the game, bowling well and then with Cookie's knock setting us up to have the possibility of victory, that sums up four-day cricket, really. You savour these wins more than any T20 win."
Essex have a squad that looks princely on paper but whose performances have not always been so regal. This will be their fourth season back in Division Two and, even though England will deprive them of Alastair Cook - whose second-innings 181 underwrote victory over Derbyshire - as well as Ravi Bopara and possibly one or two others, talk will turn to underachievement once again if they are not involved in the promotion shake-up come September.
In 2013, Napier scored 796 Championship runs at a touch under 50 and took 48 wickets, though his team-mates lagged too far behind for his returns to be gilded with significance. This victory, built (or rebuilt) around seven wickets for David Masters and Cook's hundred, was a more even team effort, with Napier taking three of the five wickets to fall on the final morning.
After Richard Johnson lost his off stump playing no stroke, Shivnarine Chanderpaul was persuaded into a rare indiscretion to be caught behind, a dismissal that left Derbyshire seven down with 170 still required.
Groenewald, who also had a fine match, then thrashed a belligerent 52 to go with his eight wickets, taking a particular shine to Monty Panesar. Groenewald hit him for four dismissive sixes as Panesar's six overs on the final day cost 44 runs, though the spinner would have been slightly more gruntled by having his aggressor stumped after an 89-run stand for the eighth wicket. On this showing, Essex will not have to worry too much about Panesar being another England absentee.
Napier was not being immodest when he described Chanderpaul's wicket as "the crucial one" and had the barnacle-like West Indian been around to accompany Groenewald, an even more dramatic denouement might have ensued. "He came out and played a hell of an innings and took the attack back to us," Napier said of Groenewald. "That's pretty much mirrored the whole of this game, how the momentum chopped and changed, and picking up his wicket was a happy moment for us all."
The pyrotechnics briefly disturbed the tranquillity by the River Can but could not prevent Essex from recording victory after being bowled out for less than 100 in their first innings for the first time since 1992, also against Derbyshire. Wayne Madsen, the visiting captain, said he would be encouraging Groenewald to continue batting with such abandon but conceded that it was on the second morning, when Derbyshire's tail folded rather more readily, that the game was lost. Five wickets fell for 13 runs to limit their lead to 60 and Cook's appetite left Derbyshire with little more than crumbs.
"It's disappointing from our side because we were in a strong-ish position after the first day but we threw the momentum back in the first two sessions of the second day and that's pretty much where we lost it," Madsen said.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick