Rejuvenated Ryder maintains Essex push
Essex 198 for 3 (Browne 106*) lead Worcestershire 84 (Leach 39, Ryder 5-24) by 114 runs
While the "Chelmsfort" of T20 fame can be a lairy cauldron of noise and attitude, the Championship crowd tends to be a more pleasant bunch. After Worcestershire were bowled out inside the first session of the day, there was guarded optimism about Essex's chances of pipping Hampshire to promotion from Division Two. Discussion of whether missing out for the fourth season in a row would constitute a failure generally elicited a good-natured shrug and a "let's see how we do here".
Essex are already in a commanding position to win for the sixth time in seven but Hampshire's resurrection from 53 for 5 in Cardiff ensured the calculators will continue to whir into the second day. At tea, a customer informed the ice cream lady that Hampshire were 233 for 5. "I don't know what that means, love," came the reply. Head scratching abounds. At the very least, it seems Essex will need to take three batting points (another 102 runs from the next 41 overs) in victory and hope Hampshire can do no better than draw.
Had Essex not failed to win for eight games after beating Derbyshire in their first outing back in April, they would not be relying on results elsewhere, of course, though a lengthy injury list, and in particular the need to use a dozen different seam bowlers throughout the year, stands in mitigation. This was their most in-form attack, the reinvention of Jesse Ryder continuing apace, and they wreaked carnage. Nick Browne then stroked a composed century to ease any fears that the pitch inspector present, Tony Pigott, would need to convene a panel.
On a late September morning, as bowlers around the country feasted, Worcestershire collapsed inside 26.2 overs. Ryder's opening spell was rewarded with sumptuous figures of 10-4-24-5, recording his first-class best for the third time this year. Paul Grayson, understandably, purred in approval. Essex are in the process of trying to make sure he returns to Chelmsford for a few summers more.
Worcestershire had giddily claimed promotion after Jack Shantry's heroics against Surrey but this was the comedown. If the film was The Hangover, the morning session would have been the bit where they woke up to find Mike Tyson's tiger in the bathroom.
The Worcestershire scorecard, which only had two batsmen in double figures, required a double take and there were whispers that the pitch might not stand up to a second look. With the green grass of home in the middle and bare patches for the spinners at both ends, it seemed designed to produce a result; but while Essex needed some fortune in winning the toss, their seamers did far more than just flip a coin.
Ryder arrived for his first spell in county cricket as a tearaway batsman who bowled the occasional bit of fill-in seam-up. The New Zealander has averaged only 30.00 with the bat but he is now Essex's leading Championship wicket-taker, having taken 43 at 17.79. This was the fourth five-wicket haul of the season and the fourth of his career; in the previous decade of first-class cricket, he had collected 55 wickets. It's British summertime and the living is easy for Ryder.
Worcestershire, having celebrated hard after their dramatic win two weeks ago, were soon looking green around the gills, never mind the pitch. Richard Oliver was caught in the slips off David Masters' fourth ball, before Ryder went around the wicket to tease an outside edge through to the keeper off Moeen Ali.
Daryl Mitchell was next to go, caught at square leg playing across the line, in the first of a few avoidable Worcestershire dismissals. Ryder had the ball moving just enough both up and down and laterally, though Alexei Kervezee was not at his most judicious in attempting to leave one that came back to clip off stump.
Tom Kohler-Cadmore and Ben Cox were trapped in front, the latter becoming Ryder's fifth wicket, either side of Tom Fell's woeful slash to slip. That left Worcestershire, who still need a handful of points to be certain of winning the Division Two title, 31 for 7 and now possibly a little pink from embarrassment. Joe Leach slapped a few forceful boundaries during a stand for the eighth wicket that more than doubled the score but fell to a brilliant, instinctive catch from Masters to a drive that might otherwise have rearranged his familiar lopsided grin.
Conversation turned to 1991, when Essex were closing in on the Championship title and Middlesex arrived to be dismissed for 51 in scarcely less overs than Worcestershire managed. Home nerves tightened at the thought of a pitch penalty, before Graham Gooch allayed those fears by finishing the day 202 not out. Browne, tall and left-handed, is perhaps more reminiscent of Marcus Trescothick but his third century of the season, featuring some crisp straight drives, provided a similar tonic.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick