Depleted Essex saved by old guard
Essex 254 for 6 (Foster 82, Pettini 71, Buck 3-64) v Leicestershire
Renovations at Chelmsford station saw a bottle-necking of Sunday amusers packed tightly in the already cosy confines of its entrance. Given the amount of frustrated expressions and flexing of limbs, you would be forgiven for thinking you had just been transported from Liverpool Street, via everywhere in between, straight into Essex's physio room.
Nine of an already slim squad were unavailable for this encounter with Leicestershire - seven through injury. Six of them are bowlers, meaning Essex had to call on the goodwill of Lancashire and Hertfordshire to enlist the spare parts of Oliver Newby and Tanveer Sikandar, respectively.
By stumps on day one, they would also have to thank a more established season debutant in Mark Pettini , as well as skipper James Foster, who helped dig their side out of a rut with a fifth wicket partnership of 154. Nineteen year old Kishen Velani, in only his second game, will continue tomorrow morning in good touch and looking to take Essex past 300.
The weather gave Chelmsford a rosy tint, at odds with the fact that Essex were without their leading batsman, their top two wicket takers and Ravi Bopara. Alastair Cook and Bopara sat out ahead of England's trip to Aberdeen for their ODI against Scotland on Friday, while Graham Napier and David Masters were absent through injuries picked up against Gloucestershire last week. It really was a case of "sun's out - guns out".
Charlie Shreck had the ball nibbling past the outside edge from a great height, leading openers Jaik Mickleburgh and Tom Westley to batten down the hatches early on, after Foster elected to bat upon winning the toss. A round of sarcastic applause in the 12th over greeted the first runs for 43 balls.
Conditions for batting eased almost on the stroke of Westley's dismissal - dragging on Rob Taylor - a relief for Greg Smith, who ended his run of three consecutive first innings ducks with a hurried two behind square leg off his first ball. He even pipped Mickleburgh to double figures before the opener eventually brought up his second digit with a single off his 73rd ball.
Soon after lunch, the Leicestershire attacked and reaped three quick wickets. Buck reconvened at the Hayes Close End and began with a few bouncers, before using his change-up to snare Mickleburgh; noncommittal to a fuller delivery that he diverted onto his own stumps.
The next over saw Ireland rewarded for a nagging line with two wickets in three balls. The first was a cracker; a good length delivery that lifted and left Smith off the seam.. Ben Foakes was soon trailing Smith's shadow back to the hutch, following another nibble-away-er which he could have left alone.
Just as he did last week against Gloucestershire, Foster belied the sticky scenario with some positive intent. Then, he came to the crease at the fall of the fifth wicket, with 71 on the board. Shifted to six due to absences, he entered the fray here at 75 for four.
Pettini was more subdued, subsisting on nudges and focusing most of his energy on stubborn defence. After working himself into touch, the singles turned to fours, particularly off Buck, whose extra pace allowed him to hit full balls straight and around the corner. He was powerless to prevent his demise, with Buck summoning some demonic bounce to get a fullish delivery with the new ball to cannon off the shoulder of the bat for a simple catch to Angus Robson at gully.
Leicestershire's effort was commendable throughout. Josh Cobb backed up each of his bowlers with attacking fields and, on another day, might have had more to show for their efforts. A handful of nicks fell short of the slips and there were a few close lbw shouts. But they also let themselves down in giving Foster a couple of reprieves.
In the 52nd over, Naik got him pushing forward indecisively on 26 with a ball that held its line, only for the edge to bisect Eckersley and first slip. The second was far simpler with Foster, on 43 at the time, giving Naik a simple chance at first slip off the bowling of Buck, which the off spinner somehow managed to spill.
When Buck finally got an lbw shout in his favour to dismiss Foster for 82, he was ecstatic, exclaiming and slapping the pitch in relief. He put in an impressive shift, generating good pace, which he was able to maintain throughout the day. His bursts have kept Essex in check.