Essex 111 for 1 (Westley 58*) trail Worcestershire 230 (Cox 63, Rhodes 59, Masters 7-52) by 119 runs Scorecard
There is an air of expectancy around Chelmsford these days. Not only are they top of Division Two, eyes set on the sole promotion spot, but their team possesses the perfect blend of youth and experience. Their Championship performances have eclipsed those in recent seasons and, as a bonus to winning games, they are doing so in style. For an Essex fan, it makes uncomfortable viewing.
For the last few years they have had to temper expectations. Previous dawns have been false. Any calm a precursor to an unforeseen yet expected storm. At least in their eyes. In 2013, when Ben Foakes, now of Surrey, helped save Essex's blushes against Kent with a composed 86 - his highest score at the time - one fan shouted up to the player's balcony as a wide-eyed Foakes, knowing only of Essex, was being interviewed: "Well played Foakesy, but you'll leave like the rest of 'em!" Twice in this match you got the feeling some felt more comfortable in that default state of self-mocking schadenfreude.
The first was a period after lunch, when Ben Cox led a Worcestershire charge, ably supported by George Rhodes, which saw boundaries flashed through the off side at will, as 94 was put on at over four an over. "This would be so Essex," grumbled one fan sat in the sun-soaked stand opposite the Pavilion.
Those five words came to mind when Nick Browne pressed forward and left a delivery from Joe Leach, who got one to move into the left-hander enough to strike his pad in front of the stumps. Off he went with the scoreboard gleaming 1 for 1. But as the dominant passages that engulfed those two blips indicated, even the most pessimistic fan would have left with a smile. Who knows, they may have joined the gaggle of well-oiled punters screeching "There's only one David Masters" as Chelmsford closed up for the evening.
After a sedate start, with Daryl Mitchell and Brett D'Oliveira reaching 35 for none, it was thatDavid Masters who produced a remarkable spell which saw him take five wickets in the space of 32 balls, for the concession of just two runs.
The first three fell in the 13th over, Masters' second running from Hayes Close, as Ryan ten Doeschate asked the 38-year-old to try his luck from the less favourable end. D'Oliveira gave ten Doeschate a catch at bat-pad, Tom Fell overbalanced to the off side and was struck in front before Joe Clarke misjudged the line badly enough to be bowled past his outside edge, despite the ball moving in. Worcestershire skipper Mitchell was then given out lbw for the fourth before Ross Whiteley was bowled through the gate to hand Masters his first Championship five-wicket haul since 2014.
It was from 48 for 5 where Rhodes and Cox's resistance began, but both raised half-centuries. Cox in particular looked in fine touch, bringing up his with 11 fours, compared to Rhodes, who took the steady approach to raise a second fifty of the season, off 107 balls. But one drive too many from Cox saw him caught at cover to give Jamie Porter his 50th Championship wicket of the season. Further help from Leach allowed Worcestershire to breach 200, before he and West Indies quick Miguel Cummins, on Worcestershire debut, gave Masters his sixth and seventh wicket of the innings, respectively.
The wicket of Browne was as good as it got for Worcestershire's bowlers, who toiled till close and were jeered off by a partisan group who had made full use of the hospitality bar to the left of the Pavilion. Tom Westley's unbeaten innings of 58 provided them with some late entertainment, as he registered a 10th score of fifty or more with some gorgeous shots through midwicket, a pair of straight drives taking him to 51 from 74 deliveries. The knock also made him the first Essex batsman to pass 1000 Championship runs this season (the first time he has achieved the feat).
It feels like most of those runs have come with England captain Alastair Cook watching on from the other end, something which will undoubtedly work in his favour when Cook sits down with selectors to determine the make-up of the Test squad to tour this winter. Cook himself looked in good order, unbeaten on 43. However, he should not have made it past 12 when Leach, the pick of the visiting bowlers, drew him into a poke outside off stump. The chance, presented to Rhodes at third slip, was put down.