Essex v Surrey, LV= Championship, Division Two, Colchester, 1st day August 7, 2015

Pettini and Browne lift patched-up Essex

Essex 323 for 7 (Browne 114, Pettini 107*, Ansari 3-80) v Surrey

Mark Pettini: back in the red-ball runs © Getty Images

Colchester claims to be the oldest town in Britain. Mark Pettini is not an old man but, on his 32nd birthday, he relished Essex's Championship return to the salubrious Castle Park. It might well be the day that reinvigorates Pettini's first-class career.

The rather patched-up feel to Essex's side - Jesse Ryder, Ryan ten Doeschate, Graham Napier and David Masters are all missing through injury - compelled them to recall Pettini for his first Championship game of 2015. In a sense he has rather embodied Essex in recent years: often formidable in white-ball cricket, Pettini has been a diminished figure when confronting the red ball.

So when Pettini emphatically drove Sam Curran through the covers for four just before six o'clock to bring up his century, he was entitled to lift his arms aloft in celebration, even if he must have realised a man of his talents should have amassed plenty more than 11 first-class centuries. To those who witnessed his marrying of style and substance here, it would have seemed extraordinary that he has not scored a County Championship century since 2009.

With Surrey's spin twins achieving the rare feat of topping 50 overs between them on the opening day, Pettini was not short of chances to show his dexterity against spin. His fourth ball was a touch short outside off stump; Pettini stood up on his toes, rocked back and caressed Ansari through point. Two slog sweeps, both latched onto decisively and early, promptly followed. In between the counter-punching, Pettini batted with intelligence and calm to underpin Essex's recovery from a rather perilous 115 for 4.

If Pettini's century contained a certain novelty value for Essex supporters, Nick Browne's effort was altogether less surprising. He scored his third century in four County Championship matches and again showcased his quietly formidable qualities. Browne marries a compact game, built upon formidable straight driving and judicious leaving, with greed for runs. After he edged Zafar Ansari to slip for 114, Browne's reaction was revealing. He trudged off, keeping his helmet on and head down as if he had been dismissed first ball.

"I wasn't happy with just 114 today - I want to score 200s and big 200s as well. They're the ones that get noticed - I want to keep knocking on doors and keep pushing my name forward," he reflected. "I'd love to be in the Lions squad. It's up to me to keep scoring hundreds." Only for a fleeting moment - when, on 76, he survived a sharp slip chance during Sam Curran's probing post-lunch spell - did Surrey threaten to deny Browne a century here.

The sight of his unobtrusive accumulation and relentless fidgetiness between deliveries has become rather more familiar to Surrey than they would wish; in his only previous Championship innings against them, at The Oval this season, Browne scored 143. He now needs only 114 more Championship runs in 2015 to become the first Essex batsman to reach 1,000 runs in the Championship since 2008: a statistic that highlights how the top order have too often failed to match the assuredness of Browne's innings today.

For large portions of the day, it seemed the same would be true at Colchester, and Essex would not reach a first-innings total of the sort that James Foster would have envisaged upon winning the toss. Tom Westley and Kishen Velani - like Browne, products of the Essex Academy - both brimmed with languid class, but the upshot was two infuriatingly insubstantial cameos.

Westley eased to 25 before Gareth Batty's introduction lured him into attempting to loft the ball over James Burke at midwicket; two balls after playing a late cut of unusual finesse, Velani declined to use his feet and flashed Burke behind. Meanwhile Ravi Bopara's bleak Championship season continued: he was neatly caught by Rory Burns off a leading edge from Batty at short leg, and now has just 253 runs from 14 innings this season.

The sight of Ansari and Batty bowling astutely in tandem on a pitch that offered unusual turn for the opening day was particularly intriguing in light of Monty Panesar's selection. Out of contract at the end of the season, most had assumed Panesar would not play for Essex again. He had been omitted from Essex's squad, but, after Ravi Patel was recalled by Middlesex, Essex sensed they needed another spinner alongside Aron Nijjar; for the first time since playing at The Oval in April, Panesar was picked.

In three months since, he has taken a break from the game and sought help for personal problems from the Professional Cricketers' Association. The sight of him signing autographs after play was particularly gratifying, and he could relish getting to work at Colchester on the second day.

Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts