West Indian bowlers vie for Test berth
West Indians 24 for 1 (Richards 8*) trail Essex 263 (Mickleburgh 58, Chopra 50, Cook 46, Deonarine 3-32) by 239 runs
Alastair Cook made his return from a finger injury against the West Indians, at Chelmsford, but looked far from comfortable as he made 46 while Essex were bowled out for 263 on the opening day. A number of the visiting bowlers got useful miles in their legs as they battle to fill one remaining spot in the Test line-up.
While much of the focus was on Cook, who has missed the opening weeks of the season with a hairline fracture sustained in the nets, he was outscored by two of Essex's youngsters as 19-year-old Jaik Mickleburgh top-scored with 58 and Varun Chopra hit 50. Both will be disappointed not to have kicked on in good batting conditions. Uncapped pace bowler Andrew Richardson removed the pair to stake his claim for a Test debut, while Lionel Baker impressed with two wickets.
Faced with half an hour to bat before the close the West Indians lost an early wicket when Devon Smith fell to offspinner James Middlebrook, but the middle order, which includes the recently arrived Shivnarine Chanderpaul, will know they have a good chance to spend time in the middle against a weakened Essex attack.
The return of Chanderpaul was one of a number of changes the tourists made following their opening match against Leicestershire. Ramnaresh Sarwan was rested, as was stand-in captain Denesh Ramdin which meant Darren Sammy took over the captaincy and Lendl Simmons was the wicketkeeper.
Sammy was in the action early when Jason Gallian edged the third ball of the day from Baker to third slip where the chance was held at the second attempt, but Baker's new-ball partner Nelon Pascal regularly dropped short and was dispatched by Cook who also pulled Richardson for six. However, while Cook managed a few meaty blows he was also left grimacing when his injured finger was jarred, especially on one occasion by Pascal.
During the morning session Cook was often overshadowed by Chopra's impressive driving as he moved to a half-century off 62 balls, but he gave his innings away when he chipped Richardson to square leg.
Shortly after lunch Cook was brilliantly held at second slip by Smith, who dived low with one hand to take the edge off Sammy. Essex, though continued to make the West Indians work for their success as Mickleburgh and James Foster added 66 for the fourth wicket before Foster edged Baker into his stumps.
The innings then fell away as Narsinghe Deonarine chipped out three with his offspin while Mickleburgh's innings was ended by Richardson. Middlebrook offered the best late resistance with 46 until falling leg before to the economical David Bernard, but Middlebrook's day ended on a positive note with his late snaffling of Smith.