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RESULT
6th Match, Chelmsford, April 12 - 15, 2024, County Championship Division One
530/7d & 257/4d
(T:375) 413 & 164/7

Match drawn

Report

Dean Elgar's maiden Essex century provides apt tribute to Chelmsford's departed

Cox and Critchley pile on the runs as Kent are made to suffer on opening day

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
12-Apr-2024
Dean Elgar brought up his maiden Essex hundred on the first day at Chelmsford, Essex vs Kent, County Championship, Division One, April 12, 2024

Dean Elgar brought up his maiden Essex hundred on the first day at Chelmsford  •  Andrew Miller/ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Essex 421 for 6 (Elgar 120, Critchley 103*, Cox 67) vs Kent
Nothing changes with any great speed at Chelmsford. Plans are currently afoot for a grand renovation of the pavilion and its surrounding concourse - the only corner of this postage-stamp ground with any wriggle-room for expansion - though rather like this week's announcement that the ground's Hayes Close and River Ends have been renamed in honour of its most storied Test performers, Graham Gooch and Sir Alastair Cook, there's been no pretence of an upgrade in signage in the interim. Indeed, the interactive "Graham Napier Sixes Trail", with its 16 plaques to commemorate each of Napier's swings for the bleachers in his famous T20 onslaught against Sussex in 2008, remains Chelmsford's most visible tribute to any former player, Graham or otherwise.
Until, that is, Dean Elgar rocked up with a note-perfect tribute to Cook, whose studiously anonymous retirement last summer had precluded any official attempts to send him off in style. As if to make amends, Elgar filled his boots - in every sense - with no fuss and little flourish. Just 176 balls of nuggetty application across the best part of two sessions, as Essex's latest left-handed ex-Test opener shifted through his gears with the same unshowy elitism that his English forebear had habitually brought to bear.
And, just as had been the case in Essex's opening-week victory at Trent Bridge, Elgar's sidekick throughout an innings-defining third-wicket stand of 159 was an up-and-coming England prospect with the same weight and range of stroke as the recently departed Dan Lawrence. Between them, Elgar and Jordan Cox set about convincing an impressive first-day crowd of 2,226 that nothing whatsoever has changed about Essex's red-ball batting prowess. A scoreline of 421 for 6, capped by an unbeaten century from Matt Critchley, amply backed up that pretence.
It wasn't all plain sailing for Essex after Tom Westley had won a handy toss on the first genuinely shirt-sleeves day of the season. In keeping with the uneven challenge that this month's two-round experiment with the Kookaburra ball has created, Kent's seamers caused havoc for precisely 21 balls. In that time, Westley himself was caught behind for 5 off George Garrett, after Feroz Khushi - whose use of an improperly sized bat at Trent Bridge still threatens his side's top-of-the-table status - chose not to use it at all this week in being bowled by Wes Agar while shouldering arms first-ball.
That double-whammy brought Cox out to face his former team-mates at an awkward 10 for 2 - and given his pointed pre-season remarks about Kent's lack of red-ball ambition, the stage was set for him to be served a large dollop of schadenfreude. Instead, Cox's opening gambit was a volley of extraordinarily poised drives down the ground - three fours and a three as Garrett strained for swing - and as he marched to 15 from his first six balls, it was as if all threat off the pitch or through the air had been dragged away with him.
Cox's confidence on the front foot was ample excuse for Elgar to step up his own intent with a series of compact drives of his own, but it was the introduction of Matt Parkinson's legspin that kicked Essex's innings into overdrive. Cox greeted his first-ball full-toss with a dismissive slap through the covers - the first of three fours in a 13-run first over - and he was scarcely allowed to settle thereafter in leaking 25 runs in his first three.
Having romped to his fifty from 61 balls, a chance came and went for Cox when Agar at fine leg fumbled a top-edged pull off Nathan Gilchrist, but he had added only seven more runs when Garrett pushed a touch fuller to pin him on the knee-roll for 67. It was hardly the harbinger of a Kent fightback, however. Critchley emerged with a platform of 169 for 3 but just as importantly the Kookaburra entering its dead-zone in the 39th over, and Essex duly punched along at a rate of 4.5 an over, with scarcely a need to over-reach themselves.
Elgar's departure came as something of a surprise when, on 120, he popped a tame catch to short midwicket off Parkinson and dropped his bat in frustration at his own missed opportunity, but that merely unleashed the long levers of "Tall" Paul Walter, who bombed the long-off boundary with a four and two increasingly weighty sixes before scuffing a third attempt to give Parkinson his second wicket.
Michael Pepper, too, peppered the boundary, including with a full-faced lift for six over the cover rope, only to pick out deep third with an attempted ramp, one short of his fifty. Critchley, however, made no such error in carrying Essex past the second new ball and through to the close, with the promise of plenty more where these first-day offerings had come from.
The only truly duff note for Essex had come before play, when Sam Cook - their Kookaburra-proofed seamer whose ten-wicket haul had routed Nottinghamshire in the first round - was ruled out of contention. Not, it should be said, in protest at the wrong Cook getting the honour of an End named after him, but as a precaution after feeling a thigh strain.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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County Championship Division One

TEAMMWLDPT
SUR7*402115
SOM721499
ESSEX7*31295
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NOTTS7*12371
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WARKS7*02466
WORCS7*02461
KENT7*12359
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