History repeats itself as Westley makes Australians toil
Essex 299 for 3 (Westley 144, Bopara 86*) trail Australians 562 (Marsh 169, Warner 94, Nevill 78, Watson 52, Porter 3-97) by 263 runs
It has not taken long for the first parallel with 2005's storied Ashes series to arrive. A decade after a young Alastair Cook smote the Australians to all parts of Chelmsford, another youthful Essex opener in Tom Westley did much the same to humble a strong touring attack on the second day of their final tour match before the first Investec Test in Cardiff.
The comparisons do not stop at Westley's free scoring either. The bowler to bear the brunt of most punishment was Nathan Lyon, just as Stuart MacGill had been belted by Cook 10 years before. And the batsman who accompanied Westley for much of his afternoon jaunt was the same man who had partnered Cook - none other than the enigmatic Ravi Bopara.
Cook is known to rate Westley highly, and his aggression - perhaps the by-product of a career where he has been most successful in Twenty20 matches and less so at first-class level - gave the tourists plenty of food for thought. By day's end edges were flying through vacant spaces that would earlier have played host to slip fielders, underlining how the mood had changed.
In all it was a somewhat sobering experience for Michael Clarke's team, as neither Mitchell Starc nor Josh Hazlewood could find the cutting edge that had them slicing through West Indies more or less at will in the Caribbean. Starc started with a dirty wide after appearing to get his spikes stuck in a foothole, and Hazlewood was tidy without overly threatening. As the day drew to a close Starc went around the wicket to swerve through Westley and the nightwatchman Jamie Porter, but it had been a long wait.
Of all the bowlers it was actually the venerable pair of Peter Siddle and Shane Watson who looked most capable, using their English experience to good effect. Siddle is considered the reserve pacemen behind Starc, Hazlewood, Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris, but the latter's persistent knee pain means the Victorian is now very much in contention for Test match duty.
Watson, of course, had plenty of reason to bowl well, having been stretched for his spot by the brazen batting of Mitchell Marsh, who went on in the morning to 169 before losing his off stump to Matt Salisbury. Pointedly, Clarke turned to Marsh before Watson, but the younger man's overs were expensive, with three no-balls suggesting he was straining for effect.
When introduced to the attack a few overs later for his first bowling of the tour, Watson maintained a nagging line while swinging the ball away - he certainly asked more questions than Marsh and provided a reminder of why two of his three five-wicket hauls in Tests have come in England, against Pakistan during a short series in 2010.
Lyon was less able to control the scoring, finding himself set upon by Westley almost from the moment he was called into the attack. The pitch offered little by way of bounce or turn, but it was still somewhat unnerving for the Australians to see Lyon attacked without mercy, ending his first spell with the figures of 5-0-54-0. If later spells were less expensive with a more circumspect field, they were seldom dangerous. A missed stumping by Peter Nevill when Bopara had 35 would have done little to enhance Lyon's mood.
There is little question about Lyon's place, for he bowled neatly in the West Indies and if anything has put more space between himself and the wrist spinner Fawad Ahmed since the pair flew out together with the rest of the squad in May. The sight of Fawad bowling at a sponsor's cap placed on a good length during the tea break suggested unhappiness with his consistency - it is reasonable to suggest that both tweakers could benefit from the presence of the absent Cricket Australia spin consultant John Davison.
As also demonstrated by a similarly proactive innings by Daniel Bell-Drummond at Canterbury last week, Westley showed that Australia's strong bowling attack can be reduced in stature by brave batting with intelligent, calculated risks. Whether the sort of freedom Westley showed in 2015, or Cook in 2005, can be replicated under the harsh glare of a Test match spotlight is a question still to be asked.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig