Mahmood left out but Essex bowlers still toil

Saj Mahmood was left of Essex's first match of the season but Gloucestershire's unbroken, fourth-wicket partnership of 229 carried the day

Gloucestershire 300 for 3 (Housego 124*, Marshall 120*) v Essex
Sajid Mahmood's career remains on hold after he was left out of the first Essex squad of the new season. But his reputation may have been polished in his absence as Essex's attack were rendered impotent by an unbroken, double-century partnership for Gloucestershire's fourth wicket between Dan Housego and Hamish Marshall.
Having played eight Tests and 26 ODIs only to fall away - his last England appearance was in 2009 - Mahmood spiralled further into the abyss after being released by Lancashire at the end of last season and failing to find a new deal at a Division One county.
Essex offered him a chance to rebuild but James Foster, the captain, said Mahmood was out-bowled in pre-season and didn't warrant inclusion against Gloucestershire. Instead, Mahmood was at Derby playing for Essex second XI. He took 1 for 40 and was overshadowed by Reece Topley - a young bowler of great promise - who returned 4 for 20.
"Saj had a good pre-season but it was one of those things where he's bowled well but the other guys have bowled better," Foster told ESPNcricinfo. "It's only the start of the season but Saj is a quality performer and he'll be featuring heavily this season.
"I'm really impressed with the bowling unit. I believe it's the best attack I've seen since I've been at the club, with six big seamers."
It would appear some luxury for Essex to have resources to leave a big-name signing out of their side. Perhaps Mahmood has now been relegated from big-name status. But only his best would have improved Essex's fortunes on the opening day of the season as Marshall and Housego compiled a chanceless 229-run stand at almost three-and-a-half an over - a fourth-wicket record against Essex.
The partnership began after lunch and saw them through to the close. It was a rare day of batting dominance from Gloucestershire and looked unlikely from 34 for 2 with both openers dismissed by David Masters. But in Marshall, Gloucestershire have a player who could easily be playing Test cricket and Housego, a determined player with a solid technique. The pair gave Gloucestershire a dream opening to 2013.
Housego arrived in Bristol on the back of a superb second-XI season for Middlesex in 2011 but he failed to transfer that to regular first-team cricket last season. He gets a long stride in when playing forward but his best stroke came from a slightly shorter stride to flick Graham Napier's first ball after tea through midwicket. The timing was immense.
Usurped by Marshall for the first ton of the year, he nervously played off the back foot into the covers on 99 and could have been run out. The throw missed and Housego had his first first-class century for Gloucestershire.
It was steady work on a slightly slow wicket that was green-tinged. That and the history of Gloucestershire's batting - most pertinently they were shot out for 180 and 146 here last season - was all the encouragement Foster needed to insert them having won the toss.
But his bowlers didn't probe away consistently enough, especially Maurice Chambers, who at one stage of the afternoon had conceded over four-an-over. Masters was Masters - nipped a couple out with the new ball and kept it tight - and Napier found a little seam movement from the Hayes Close End after lunch. Aside from that, including the second new ball, there was only the hard work of the visiting batsman for a healthy day one crowd to get excited about.
Despite the close score, Foster was satisfied with his bowler's efforts. "I guess it's one of those where you hope it's going to do more for a longer period of time than it did," he said. "It would have been nice to have another wicket by lunch but after that, credit to the batsman. We did not bowl poorly."

Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

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