Bowler and Burns boost Somerset
Essex 28 for 0 trail Somerset 400 for 3 dec (Bowler 187*, Burns 124*) by 372 runs at Chelmsford
With the likes of JK Lever, Neil Foster, John Childs and Peter Such helping out behind the scenes at Essex, you would have thought the bowling department was sorted, but, on today's evidence, that was far from the case. Just like last season, their lack of quality bowling was shown up as Somerset cruised to 400 for 3 declared, with Peter Bowler and Michael Burns helping themselves on a flat pitch before Essex then closed on 28 for no loss.
Bowler and Burns proved a good mixture for Somerset. Bowler the battler, and Burns the bully. The pair added 232 runs, batting throughout the middle session, as well as the majority of the evening with Bowler making 187 not out, and Burns unbeaten on 124. Andy Flower, Essex's stand-in captain, was left scratching his head for ideas as his toothless attack managed only two wickets during the day.
Burns was the driving force of the innings. He drove and cut 16 boundaries, the majority through the offside. Using his feet well against the spinners, Danish Kaneria and James Middlebrook, he glided to his half-century in 71 balls, and later signalled the hundred stand with Bowler by slapping Graham Napier to the square-leg fence. The new ball didn't make any difference, as Burns hit Scott Brant and John Stephenson to the rope with dismissive ease. He signalled his hundred with another drive, off Middlebrook, and continued to dominate the wayward bowling on the way to Somerset's five batting points.
Bowler, as he has done throughout his 20 years at the top, took his time. Resuming on 49 not out, he brought up his half-century early on with a fine leg-glance for four, greeted by hearty applause from all of the 50 or so people watching. His hundred came a couple of hours later, from 229 balls, including eight fours. By that stage, there were a few more home supporters to applaud that, and his 150, but there was little for them to cheer. The Somerset batsmen showed the urgency that Essex lacked in the field.
After five overs were lost to rain in the morning, the fielders skulked around in the cold, hunched in their jumpers. The gloomy conditions ought to have encouraged swing and seam for the bowlers, but it was more about sweaters and sawdust - and with few smiles. Essex were missing a few of their so-called characters, and you could tell. Ronnie Irani (injured), Nasser Hussain (rested) and Darren Gough (marooned) were all unavailable, and badly missed. The effort and body language was poor. A helicopter passed over the ground a few times, but, sadly for Essex, this time it wasn't Goughie making a grand entrance.
Danish Kaneria continued to find his feet in his new side's colours. His first ball was a no-ball, his second a full-toss, and his third ripped out of the rough for two byes. However, in his second over, he got through Matthew Wood's defences with one that turned a touch and hit the offstump. It was his opening Championship wicket, and the first of many, Essex will hope.
No doubt Mushtaq Ahmed's success with Sussex last summer prompted Essex to coax Kaneria to the club. The management refused to allow any interviews with their new overseas star during this match on the grounds that his English isn't good enough. But, as one scribe pointed out, that never stopped Graham Gooch. However, Gooch, now the coach, will be hoping that Danish delivers this season, no matter how good his grip of the language is.
Jamie Cox was the other batsman to perish when he prodded at Brant outside off stump, and the lanky Will Jefferson stooped to take a wonder catch. Big Will, fielding at second slip, bent low to his right to grab the ball inches off the soggy turf. It was a lucky reward for Brant, who has lost his form since his knee injury last summer, down on his pace, and swing. He will need to recover it, though, if Essex are to live up to their tag of promotion candidates. They looked anything but today.
Freddie Auld is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.