Napier highlights Essex desire for momentum
Essex 473 (Cook 80, Foster 72, White 6-113) beat Derbyshire 148 (Thakor 44, Porter 4-28) and 294 (Madsen 112, Hughes 80, Napier 4-64) by an innings and 31 runs
A second Championship win for Essex, this one by an in innings, sees them get off the bottom of Division Two. Their 23 points achieved in three days work here takes them to sixth in the table, with nine left to play. Should they go on a run reminiscent of last season's home-straight of six wins out of their last seven they would be, as they say, "in and amongst it".
Certainly Essex are a side that thrive of momentum - not too surprising given the players they have: an array of attackers in each discipline that thrive with time on the field and wither without it. No one typifies that more than Graham Napier who has gradually been building up to a performance like today.
His 4 for 64 in 23 overs, a season best, was a triumph of the endurance he has built up through managing niggles in the middle of an unrelenting schedule. At times in four-day cricket he has switched to an abbreviated run-up, mid-spell. On the third evening, there was nothing by half as he produced a match-winning cameo of six overs, 3 for 13. As the ball approached its seventies, it started showing signs of reversing. With that, it was handed to Napier at the Hayes Close End and he used it to gut the Derbyshire middle order. It was a reminder that Napier is one of the best reverse-swing bowlers on the county circuit.
Essex added 24 runs to their overnight score, 21 of which came from the bat of James Foster. It was Wayne White who kept the home entertainment to a minimum by removing Aron Nijar lbw and then dismissing Foster, who guided him perfectly to Billy Godleman at third man. The wickets gave White his second consecutive six-wicket haul, after a career best 6 for 25 against Kent in the previous round of matches.
Derbyshire, 325 behind, got off to the worst possible start when Ben Slater chipped Jamie Porter's fifth ball to Napier at mid-on, who pulled off an impressive jumping catch. It looked from a distance that the ball might have stopped in the pitch; Slater seemingly checking his drive, as if reacting late to the ball not quite coming onto the bat. Soon after Billy Godleman followed him back to the pavilion when he flicked Porter straight to Ryan ten Doeschate, who had been moved to leg slip a couple of balls earlier.
And so began a third wicket partnership that would take 43 overs to break. The respective shapes, mannerisms and backgrounds of Chesney Hughes and Wayne Madsen suggests more buddy-cop flick than strong-willed resistance. Hughes used his power to punish anything juicy that came his way; Madsen simply drove and guided out of habit. Against the spin of Tom Westley and Nijjar, Hughes at times looked edgy, and frenetic. As it started to look like Westley had Hughes' number - with Hughes on 25, Westley had a big lbw shout turned down - the Derbyshire No. 3 ended a sequence of nine dot balls against the offspinner with a powerfully struck six over midwicket. Madsen on the other hand was a picture of serenity. Still, they both took it in turns to pummel the back of Ryan ten Doeschate who, at short-leg, felt the full force of their cuts and pulls on five or six occasions.
Their partnership of 166 showed that the pitch rewarded patience. But when Hughes departed for 80, bowled so emphatically by Ravi Bopara that just one stump was left standing, that was the end of any real accompaniment for Madsen.
By the time the Derbyshire captain had reached his hundred from his 179th ball faced - his first of the season and career-first against Essex - Wes Durston had perished to the second ball after lunch. At that point, the deficit was down to 70 and there was a chance that Essex would need to bat again. Then Napier happened. The last six wickets fell for 33, with Ryder removing Scott Elstone thanks to a brilliant catch from Foster, diving high to his right, bowling White and then having Mark Footitt caught at mid-off to finish the match.
But it was Napier's spell that allayed any fears that Essex might not convert this to a win. When Madsen nicked him to Alastair Cook at first slip, the crowd jumped to their feet - well rose slowly, carefully and surely - in appreciation that one of their experienced first team bowlers was fit and firing.
Speaking at stumps, Essex coach Paul Grayson confirmed that David Masters, who missed this match with a groin strain, is likely to play back-to-back on Thursday and Friday night in the NatWest T20 Blast. Currently, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to make it through a four-day game. An assessment will be made after Friday night as to whether he will make the squad for Gloucestershire on Sunday.
As for Reece Topley, who spent the day as a net-bowler for England at Trent Bridge, things are a bit different. With the back problems he has had over the last year, a specialist has advised the club that the left-arm seamer cannot play two four-day matches in a row. Having played at Northampton, he was subsequently unavailable for this game and will come back into squad for the trip to Bristol. Essex and Grayson will operate on those terms until the end of the season before reassessing Topley in the winter.