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Freddie Auld at Chelmsford
April 28, 2004
Somerset 87 for 1 (Bowler 49*) v Essex at Chelmsford
It is one of the never-ending frustrations of this game that even when the sun is shining there can sometimes be no play. A wet outfield and a damp patch in the bowler's run-up at the Hayes Close end delayed the start of Essex's match against Somerset by an infuriating five hours. After four long inspections, involving virtually all the players and both coaches as well as the umpires, things finally got under way at 4pm, and Somerset cruised to 87 for 1.
Sceptics said neither side wanted to bat first in the gloomy conditions, while others suggested that while Essex were keen to play, one of Somerset's more well-known bowlers wasn't happy with that run-up. In any case, the handful of patient spectators were begging the players just to get on with it.
As the sun began to peep through the thick covering of grey clouds, Michael Burns, Somerset's captain, rather surprisingly chose to bat. After an uneventful start, John Francis woke everyone up when he flicked John Stephenson to square leg for 18. Then came the biggest moment of excitement and anticipation when Danish Kaneria, the Pakistan legspinner, and one of Essex's overseas signings, came on to bowl. But, a bit like the opening day of Essex's first home game of the season, it was a bit of an anticlimax.
Steady rather than surprising, Kaneria concentrated on the basics instead of bamboozling. He was unlucky not to get any reward, but Peter Bowler used all his 20 years of experience to guide Somerset into a strong position, cruising to 49 not out by the close with no alarms. Essex's bowlers could have their work cut out tomorrow, and the thinness in their bowling ranks was already a topic of discussion for one supporter.
On the train from London to Chelmsford, a long-haired student wearing an Iron Maiden T-shirt was in deep discussion about Essex's strong points, like Andy Flower and, er ... Andy Flower, and the weak points. "We need more bowlers," he said, "Scott Brant's good, but I can't believe we sold Jon Dakin, we need more pace bowlers." It almost seemed surreal that a heavy-metal fan would also be a cricket fan. However, he had a point.
Essex's County Ground may indeed need to be graced by more pace bowlers, but this morning it just needed some cricket to liven up an archetypal wet Wednesday: one of those typical gloomy, grey early-season days. Around 100 spectators waited patiently for the games to begin. Most of those foolhardy few sat in the two-tiered Tom Pearce Stand, while one lonely figure blackened the white banks of seats in the Community Stand.
The hospitality boxes were empty, the marquees were in hibernation, and the only action out on the pitch was the groundstaff rolling and drying the wicket, with the covers at the ready. It was if the ground just wasn't ready for the season. The members' bar was a bit more lively. A smattering of very senior citizens supped on their pints, bemoaning the weather, and there were even some Somerset fans, decked out in their one-day shirts.
One player who certainly didn't look ready for the season in the murky morning was Kaneria, who was unveiled to the local photographers. From the dust and delights of Pakistan to the dank and drizzle of Chelmsford in a couple of days - he understandably didn't look too sure about it all. However, perhaps those 10 overs under his belt this evening, as well as a spin in Aftab Habib's car in the morning, cheered him up. Essex will hope so, for he should have plenty of work to do tomorrow.
Freddie Auld is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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