Familiar failings undermine Essex
Essex 75 for 0 trail Gloucestershire 224 (Payne 48*, Topley 5-53, Masters 4-67) by 149 runs
It takes little more than a cursory wander through the Chelmsford pavilion to fully appreciate that Essex is a club steeped in a rich history. The names adorning the walls and the overflowing honours board provide a constant reminder of former glories but they are becoming increasingly distant. For Essex have become a piece of the Division Two furniture and have rarely hinted at requiring the movers in any time soon.
This season, like many that have preceded it in recent years, is proving to be no different. For all their limited-overs pedigree, cracking the Championship nut continues to prove difficult for Paul Grayson, the head coach. One win from nine outings thus far hints at a side lacking the sort of clinical conviction and methodical approach required for promotion; that was underlined here.
There has been little sign of lasting damage from the ignominious defeat to Hampshire a fortnight ago but that if anything demonstrates their erratic form. They wasted little time in banishing the demons of the Ageas Bowl by dishing out some punishment of their own against Gloucestershire but again failed to finish their prostrate opponents off.
After subsiding to 56 for 6 in the face of an early Essex onslaught, Gloucestershire provided a late-order rally to keep themselves afloat and ensure this contest was not all one-way traffic.
Yet, their backs remain firmly against the wall against an Essex side that, man-for-man, few can match. Admittingly, Grayson's hand has been limited hitherto by injuries and the absence of several of notable players but he now has a full deck to choose from; too late some would say.
Few would blame the Chelmsford faithful for wondering why their side lie in the lower reaches of the table with a team brimming with international experience, youthful exuberance and hardened campaigners. For much of the morning session, played under glorious blue skies, their perplexity would have swelled as the hosts tore through Gloucestershire with real purpose - in contrast to what has gone before this season.
David Masters, bowling as shrewdly as ever, used all his experience to make hay on a surface that was conducive to straightforward, stick-it-on-a-length seam bowling. Will Tavare could only withstand two deliveries before fending behind to give James Foster one of six catches. It set the tone for the day.
Essex's hounding was incessant. From the Hayes Close End, Reece Topley used the angle created from his left-arm action to push one across Chris Dent and Hamish Marshall quickly followed suit, lashing one down Nick Browne's throat at backward point. Gloucestershire disintegrated all too easily.
As much as the conditions favoured bowling first - Foster had no hesitation in doing so upon winning the toss - and Essex's seamers took full advantage, the visitors subsided without a whimper. Marshall's shot was loose, Ian Cockbain pushed at a Masters delivery he ought to have left and captain Alex Gidman, having provided brief resistance, inexcusably flashed his blade at one that simply wasn't there; the situation called for attrition but Gloucestershire lost their heads.
They managed to halt Essex's charge, however. Adam Rouse, playing without a number on his shirt as a short-term signing, briefly held the fort before lunch to stem the flow as he rode his luck on his way to 28. The momentum switched when Foster threw the ball to Jesse Ryder shortly before the interval. Unlike his team-mates, he failed to find any consistency and was swatted for four boundaries in his opening over. Rouse brought the hundred up with a classy cut that exhibited his potential but became part of the procession a couple of balls later with a naive waft at Topley.
Topley finished with 5 for 53 but only Gloucestershire's tail showed those above them how the job is done. Rain forced a two-hour delay after lunch and the interruption sucked the life out of Essex. Jack Taylor counterattacked admirably and along with David Payne put on 35 for the ninth wicket. Each over, the Essex groans of frustration grew louder.
Gloucestershire propelling themselves past the 200 mark seemed improbable after their early slump but Payne's unbeaten 48 helped them up to 224, with a 66-run stand for the final wicket alongside Matt Taylor, who matched his career best of 26.
Yet, the duo couldn't extract the same lateral movement Essex's bowlers had managed earlier in the day as Tom Westley and Browne negotiated a tricky evening session to mitigate the frustration in the home dressing room. Until they can leave their foot on the pedal for a full day, a repeat of those bygone glories will have to wait.