Surrey 137 for 4 v Essex

Eight points is the gap that Essex must make up on Somerset over the last two games and Ronnie Irani, their ebullient chairman of cricket, was out glad-handing the spectators before start of play at Chelmsford. The crunch time of the season has arrived, with the prospect of a winner-takes-all final match at Taunton next week. At times like this, even the old timers feel the sap rising.

Such positivity was certainly needed after a first day restricted to 46.3 overs because of the periods when the floodlights were deemed to have overtaken, rather than supplemented, the natural light, a scientific nicety largely accepted by shrugs by spectators who don't really know what it means but have learned the hard way that it's best not to ask.

It was a frustrating delay considering that it hasn't rained in these parts for weeks and the River Can alongside the ground is so low that it has become an ugly patchwork of green algae. But with sunshine predicted for the rest of the week, Essex are more likely to rise than the river levels.

Nevertheless, Essex did not have matters entirely their own way. Surrey will be reasonably satisfied with their 137 for 4, with the most accomplished innings of the day coming from the captain, Ben Foakes, who is 31 not out against his former county after choosing to bat, doubtless to avoid a fourth innings against the offspin of Simon Harmer.

They must manage without their overseas batsman Dean Elgar who has returned to South Africa early for family reasons.

The seamers have dominated so far with two wickets apiece for Jamie Porter and Sam Cook, but it would be no surprise to find the second innings turning into a Harmer versus Amar Virdi shootout. Harmer has 71 Championship wickets at 18.66; Virdi 20 at 16.81. Harmer's feats for Essex have been widely extolled; Virdi is playing only his fifth Championship match of the season and has had fitness issues, but it is an appetising match-up for all that.

Porter removed both Surrey openers in the space of nine balls when the first day's play finally began. He was into his ninth over when Mark Stoneman, who had despatched his previous two balls to the boundary, was lbw. Scott Borthwick got a good one in Porter's next over which left him from around the wicket.

Cook strengthened Essex's position with wickets in successive overs immediately after tea. Ollie Pope was lbw and Jamie Smith's innings, which included a rash of playing and missing against Aaron Beard, came to grief with a jab at a wide ball which seamed away to be caught at second slip.

Pope must privately look at Jason Roy's elevation to the England test side and reflect on the unfairness of life when glamour innings in the white-ball formats takes precedence over Championship excellence. Pope himself was probably blooded too soon last summer, but since then he has consolidated a first-class average of 59; Roy manages 37. As George Dobell commented on this website recently, his selection is proof of a broken system.

Nevertheless, Pope did little to advertise his talent to the Chelmsford crowd. He gave a very difficult chance to Dan Lawrence, diving to his left at short midwicket, before he had scored and also survived a missed stumping on 8 when he ventured down the wicket.