Leicestershire 100 for 3 v Essex 144
Whatever image you may have of a cricket 'festival' it seems safe to assume that, unless you've visited Southgate, Garon Park is unlikely to fit the stereotype. This is not a ground for the romantic. It lacks the splendour of Cheltenham, the beauty of Tunbridge Wells or the charm of Arundel.
Indeed, the harsh would even describe it as habitually windswept, remarkably barren and boasting all the charm of an industrial estate. The presence of a Samaritans marquee amid the beer tents and temporary seating underlined the somewhat depressing atmosphere. At most grounds such a marquee would seem incongruous; at times here it felt like a necessity.
Yet this 'festival' is still a worthy endeavour. Essex reckon that as many as 500 of their members - that's 10% of the total number - might not renew unless they played in this corner of the county, while they also hope that, by taking first-class cricket to people who might otherwise not see it, that they might nurture new followers. They are, after all Essex County Cricket Club; not Chelmsford Town.
By the end of the first day, however, several Essex players could be forgiven for requiring the services of that Samaritans tent. Put into bat on a pitch that started just a little damp, they surrendered their last nine wickets for 87 runs to subside to their second lowest total of the Championship season. As they're up against the bottom side in Division Two, it suggested that any lingering hopes they retain of promotion are diminishing by the day.
Yes, conditions did aid spinner and seamer alike. But, as Pitch Liaison Officer John Jameson confirmed, there was nothing really untoward about the surface. Several of Essex's batsmen simply lacked the requisite application.
The one major exception to that rule was Ravi Bopara. Bopara, captain of Essex for the first time in the Championship due to an ankle injury to James Foster, battled hard for two-and-a-quarter hours only to be undone by a horrid ball that kept low; the only truly unplayable delivery of the day. Bopara's determination deserved to be repaid with better fortune.
Leicestershire also bowled vey well. Nathan Buck, probing an excellent line and nipping the ball around off the seam, just shaded Wayne White as the pick of the seamers, while left-arm spinner Claude Henderson utilised the helpful conditions expertly to claim his best figures for a year.
The way he lured the previously elegant Shah, who was the one man to make batting appear straightforward, into a forward prod at one that turned and took the edge was masterful. Ryan ten Doeschate, who was out first ball and now averages only nine in the Championship season, was also lured to his demise in similar fashion.
Not everyone made it so difficult. Jaik Mickleburgh, mistaking a positive approach for a reckless approach, skied a catch to mid-off as he attempted to skip down the wicket and thrash Henderson for six, while Maurice Chambers' attempted slog-sweep against the spin was simply hideous. It ended up in the hands of extra-cover.
In between times, Tom Westley was beaten by a good one that nipped back, Billy Godleman and Adam Wheater missed expansive drives, before David Masters and Tom Craddock were beaten by balls that nipped back. Craddock's real test was about to begin, however. Preferred to the more experienced Tim Phillips, who has endured a disappointing season in first-class cricket, Craddock is Essex's only specialist spinner in this game and, on a pitch already offering a surprising amount of turn, will surely need to play a major role if his side is to clamber back into the game.
He bowled some fine deliveries and should have had at least one wicket. But, generally, he lacked the consistency to build pressure upon the batsmen and paled by comparison to Henderson. Perhaps that's not surprising. Henderson is 39 years old, after all, and was playing international cricket when 22-year-old Craddock was still at primary school. Craddock also had the disadvantage of bowling at batsmen who were prepared to graft a little harder for their runs.
Besides, had Essex accepted their chances in the field, things would look less bleak. As it was, however, they reprieved James Taylor twice, once off Craddock when the batsman had just 9 and once, from the final delivery of the day, when he had 13. On the first occasion, Shah was unable to cling on to an outside edge at slip - possibly he was hindered by the ball coming off the wicket-keeper's pads or gloves - while Wheater, who had earlier taken an outstanding diving catch to dismiss Will Jefferson off the inside edge - was unable to cling on to a similar chance off Masters just before stumps.
Taylor, captain of Leicestershire for the first time in the Championship after Andrew McDonald was forced to return to Australia for family reasons, will be aiming to make Essex pay on day two.