Gloucs flattened by Ryder and Bopara
Essex 425 for 3 (Ryder 133, Bopara 98*, Westley 71, Browne 65, Foster 51*) lead Gloucestershire 224 by 201 runs
While T20 has perhaps encouraged teams to charge headlong in pursuit of victory in the longer formats as well, Essex demonstrated the benefits of attritional batting as they amassed a considerable lead over Gloucestershire.
By the time Jesse Ryder pushed Matt Taylor down the ground to bring up his first century for the club, Gloucestershire were a broken unit. Ravi Bopara also moved to within a blow of his own ton, set to be his second in three Championship outings, as the shadows lengthened. It was little surprise that Alex Gidman's troops could hardly muster the strength to drag themselves off; Essex's lead is 201 with seven wickets in hand.
Expectation can weigh heavy, particularly for an overseas player and Ryder was finding the burden increasingly onerous, ever for his broad shoulders. Such have been his struggles with the bat, he has proved to be more of a weapon with ball in hand but this was the type of innings for which he was recruited for.
"It's been a tough start for me over here," Ryder said. "I've been here a month and am still trying to get used to the wickets but myself and Ravi just went out there to bat, we didn't chat about how to play and just relaxed - it paid off.
"I've been striking the ball well recently and that's helped me get back to what I know, keeping my head still and just keeping it simple."
What was most striking about his 133 was the diligence he showed. Both Ryder and Bopara took time to attune themselves to conditions, neither daring to unveil the expansive array of strokes they're known for; they knew their innings carried significant weight for differing reasons.
Ryder had managed just 152 runs in his previous eight Championship innings and many were beginning to wonder if the club were receiving any bang for their considerable buck. His technique forbids much foot movement but, unlike any of Gloucestershire's batsmen, he was prepared to push forward and nullify the lateral movement. Having negotiated a tricky period before lunch after both Tom Westley and Nick Browne fell for half-centuries, the New Zealander subtly moved through the gears.
Given Essex's batting frailties this term, the visitors will feel that they arrived in Chelmsford at the most inopportune moment of the season, with Bopara and Ryder backed up by Ryan ten Doeschate further down the order. Yet Gloucestershire were hopeless, and unwavering in giving up easy runs despite Essex's measured approach. The green-tinged pitch proved more of a threat than this weaponless Gloucestershire attack.
"The openers helped set the platform and helped us by giving me the opportunity to play like that," Ryder said. "But from there, we've got a great chance of forcing a victory. If we can bat well tomorrow and get as many runs as we can and see what happens. Hopefully it starts turning a bit more, and we can bring Monty [Panesar] into play."
Ryder is particularly strong through the off side as he throws his hands at anything full enough to drive and pounces on anything short with panache. Three spanking drives off Matt Taylor, as the sun beamed down on Chelmsford, hinted at what was to come and quickened the pulses of the members that had expected to see such disdainful batting from their big-money signing before now.
But Ryder was only clicking into gear. A towering six off Tom Smith very nearly caused damage to one of the houses at the Hayes Close End; after reaching his half-century from 90 balls, he went on to bludgeon a further 80 runs from the next 74 before getting a fine edge through to Adam Rouse, ending a stand worth 197. It was fitting that a powerful drive, which required little or no foot movement but stemmed from pure brutality, brought up his hundred.
At the other end, Bopara was far more restrained, showing a great deal of maturity to reign himself in amidst Ryder's assault. He will have to wait for his opportunity to raise his bat aloft as he continued in the same vein, even through the nineties, by playing each ball on its merits and not taking any undue risks. That, as much as Ryder's power, typified Essex's dominance.