George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
Worcestershire 37 for 0 trail Essex 561 for 8 dec (Westley 113, Lawrence 90, Walter 65, Harmer 57*) by 524 runs
You have to be careful what you wish for. Not so long ago, many of us bemoaned these early-season contests as they tended to provide too much assistance for seam bowlers. How were batters to learn to play the long innings that define Test matches on surfaces where 200 is par, we asked. And how are young spinners to bowl the volume of overs to gain experience?
The prospect of too much assistance for seamers didn't seem so bad here. Yes, Worcestershire's spinner - a legspinner, at that - had the opportunity to bowl 46 overs. And yes, several Essex batters had the opportunity to build the sort of long innings that define Test cricket.
But in terms of entertainment? Well, for much of the first two days this game had little competitive edge as Essex went on to register their highest score for five years.
None of this should be read as a criticism of either side. Essex were admirably ruthless in grinding out the score that gives them the best chance of victory in this game and, despite not claiming a single bowling bonus point (which means they hadn't taken a third wicket by the time they had bowled 110 overs), Worcestershire were admirably resilient in making them fight for nearly every run. Only in the last couple of hours of their innings did Essex take the run-rate above three-an-over - a late acceleration took it to 3.22 - and Ed Barnard's final figures- he conceded 59 from his 30 overs - are testament to the excellent professional that he has become. Worcestershire have now spent four of their most recent seven days of cricket in the field. Barnard will scarcely have bowled a poor delivery in that time.
And maybe the ends will justify the means for Essex. There were increasing signs that the ball was keeping low as the second-day progressed and Worcestershire could struggle against the spin of Simon Harmer, in particular. But just because a rock-fall can be dramatic, it doesn't mean the 10,000 years of erosion that led to it is terrific entertainment. And the concern here is that such 'entertainment', in this day and age, is niche to the point of being an extremely tough sell.
Which leads us to the age-old question: what's the purpose of county cricket? Because if it's just to prepare players for Test cricket, you might just about justify this sort of surface. Certainly batters learn to graft for their runs and bowlers learn to persist. But if it's to prepare players for Test cricket and provide entertainment, then they may have to think again. Pitches that lead to big scores don't necessarily equate to good pitches and there is no incentive here for developing fast bowlers.
Again, there's no criticism of the groundstaff intended, either. This pitch was under water two months ago. It is remarkable that the teams are playing here at all. But there might be a case for allowing hybrid pitches to be used in such circumstances. Such pitches, with plugs of plastic accounting for around five percent of the surface, promote deeper and stronger grass growth. They are quickly becoming common in limited-overs cricket and might ensure a little more pace and bounce. As a result, they might more closely replicate the conditions found in Test cricket. For while spinners might have been entrusted with lots of overs here, it wasn't because the pitch was offering them assistance. Rather, it was because it has been harder to score when there has been no pace with which to work. This has been a surface to make fast bowlers wish they had become sewage workers.
Perhaps the extra points awarded for a draw this year are relevant, too. Certainly it feels as if those three extra points (increased from five to eight this season) have reduced sides' inclination to take any risks. And while the intention behind that was worthy - to encourage teams to fight for draws and incentivise more attritional cricket - you wonder if the outcome is quite what was predicted. Right now, it feels as if the whole of county cricket is being run by Jose Mourinho; defend for days and try and catch the opposition on the break. It might help if these matches were scheduled later in the season when groundstaff have had a chance to inject some pace.
You wonder what Marcus Trescothick, England's new elite batting coach, made of it as he watched on from the stands. Perhaps he will have concluded that Dan Lawrence, the only realistic contender here for a spot in the England squad ahead of the Test series against New Zealand, has the patience and determination to match his undoubted flair. Suffice to say, it was a shock when Lawrence fell 10 short of a century.
Or perhaps he will conclude that Tom Westley should be on England's radar again. Certainly there were strokes in this innings that marked Westley out as a player with more options than most - at one stage he turned a good-length ball through fine leg for four from outside off stump, as if it was easy - and with a hunger to add to his elegance. Since the start of 2016, he averages 103.60 against Worcestershire in first-class cricket. He made 213 against them at Chelmsford earlier in the month and now has three centuries in his four most recent matches on this ground; two for Essex and one for England Lions. It was a surprise when he fell, top-edging an attempted slog-sweep off Jake Libby's first delivery.
"It's a very placid wicket," Westley said afterwards. "Pretty dead. Taking 20 wickets will be a monumental effort.
"I felt scratchy when batting. It was infuriating. Slow going. But we are very happy. It's not often you get 500 on the board."
Later, as Simon Harmer, Paul Walter and Ryan ten Doeschate accelerated, Brett D'Oliveira was hit for three sixes in an over and the normally excellent Ben Cox missed another chance - his third of the innings, this one a stumping - when ten Doeschate advanced down the wicket. Worcestershire's bowlers deserved better from both their fielders and their pitches.