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May 3, 2008
Essex 251 for 9 (Bopara 66, Mason 4-59, O'Brien 3-46) trail New Zealanders 355 (Marshall 128, ten Doeschate 6-57) by 104 runs
Until the blow to their captain, it had been a highly satisfactory day for New Zealand as the bowlers enjoyed a useful workout. With little time to impress outside of international matches on modern tours, it is vital players take their chances. New Zealand's two reserve seamers, Michael Mason and Iain O'Brien, are competing to be the first in line should injuries hit the main three and there was little to split them. Mason edged the wicket-taking column courtesy of his late removal of Alex Tudor, but it was O'Brien's afternoon spell that opened up the game.
Depending on the make-up of New Zealand's side for the first Test there is an outside chance one could play, but more likely is that they'll need to ready should Chris Martin, Tim Southee, both rested here, or Kyle Mills break down. They bring different skills to the attack: Mason is a back-of-a-length bowler while O'Brien pitches it fuller and searches for swing. It was this that brought O'Brien two of his wickets as he crashed into the stumps of Mark Pettini and James Middlebrook.
O'Brien's first wicket was Ravi Bopara, who drove a catch straight at short extra-cover after making a delightful 66. Bopara has been one of the stand-out batsmen early in the season - he's not failed to register at a half-century in six innings to date - and this effort began with a perfect on-drive from his first ball. An inside edge past leg stump was his one piece of luck, but the majority of his shots came right out of the middle. Some of his off-driving left the decent crowd purring with appreciation and fifty came off 90 balls in front of England selector James Whitaker.
However, with batting appearing a stroll in the sunshine he played a fraction too early at O'Brien. Bopara has marked 'SL' on the top of his bat to remind him of the tough times in Sri Lanka as a warning not to give his innings away, so this will go down as a missed opportunity.
His dismissal sparked a collapse of 5 for 34 either side of tea. Ryan ten Doeschate, who finished with 6 for 57 after claiming the final New Zealand wicket, was caught at short leg off Vettori. Pettini, the Essex captain, had also played nicely for his 29 but was bowled by a big inswinger from O'Brien. Middlebrook fell in very similar style, having his middle stump uprooted as Essex lost their way.
Mason had taken an early lead in the race between the two supporting seamers during a lively new-ball spell. He dispatched Jason Gallian with out that nipped off the seam and didn't bounce, then had Alastair Cook caught behind. However, with an eye on the Test series Cook at least showed no ill-affects from the dislocated little finger he suffered yesterday. His downfall came in familiar style, as he pushed half-heartedly outside off stump, an area that caused him problems during the New Zealand tour.
Vettori rotated all his bowling options as they tried to get miles in their legs. Kyle Mills hit a good rhythm, removing Tom Westley with a delivery that bounced and took the outside edge, but Jacob Oram looked a little below his best with a number of balls slipping down the leg side. He has a crucial part to play for New Zealand, they missed him dearly during the final Test in Napier.
After Vettori raced off the field - his captaincy is also vital to the team - and the ball grew older and softer New Zealand struggled to wrap up the innings. Tudor showed why he should always have made more runs, adding 53 with Tony Palladino, to reduce the deficit. However, an extended spell in the field will have done the visitors no harm and their batsmen will be eager for another innings as the serious business draws closer.
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