Report: Essex v Warwickshire, Specsavers County Championship 2017

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Day Four

Simon Harmer blasted a massive hole in the Warwickshire batting at Chelmsford to take the first 14-wicket haul of his career and move Essex clear at the top of the Specsavers County Championship with their fourth win of the season.

Harmer took eight second-innings wickets for 36 runs, career-best figures for an innings, to finish with figures of 14 for 128. He took seven wickets on an overcast fourth day as Warwickshire collapsed alarmingly as they chased 258 to make Essex bat again. The bottom club fell 164 runs short and suffered their four innings defeat of the season.

The South African spinner was almost unplayable on a worn pitch that was also used for Essex’s Royal London Cup semi-final defeat by Nottinghamshire on Friday night. With five fielders surrounding each Warwickshire lamb to the slaughter, there were enough appeals to have ended the game long before the close quarter of an hour after a late lunch at 2.17pm.

Neil Wagner, playing his last game for the county before he steps aside to accommodate Mohammad Amir as overseas player, claimed the first wicket of the day before Harmer took centre stage.

The New Zealander Test seamer removed Ian Bell in the eighth over of the morning to reduce Warwickshire to 47 for three. Bell had edged one just short of Alastair Cook at first slip before he got a thinner touch to give the diving James Foster the catch.

Before he left the field at lunch, with Warwickshire 90 for eight, Wagner received a signed magnum of champagne to acknowledge his sterling efforts in helping Essex make a sensational start to their first season in Division One.

Harmer bowled 39 overs, almost unchanged, on the day before, and entered the fray on day four after Bell’s departure. With his sixth ball had Andrew Umeed moving back indecisively and falling lbw. Two Harmer balls later, Sam Hain’s attempt to check the sweep he planned resulted in him popping up a catch to Ryan ten Doeschate at short leg.

Harmer was as parsimonious as ever, though when he gave one a bit of width, Rikki Clarke drove crisply through the covers for four. With Tim Ambrose, Clarke put a brake on the Essex charge for 16 overs before another clatter of wickets.

Clarke went controversially to a ball that pitched well outside off-stump and didn’t look as if it would disturb the stumps as it turned to rap him on his pad. Clarke looked aghast at the decision; Ambrose threw his bat to the ground in frustration. Next ball, Keith Barker tried to paddle the delivery away, got a top edge and was caught behind by Foster.

Jeetan Patel, who hit a run-a-ball 71 the previous evening, took successive boundaries off Harmer before he became the latest lbw victim on his back foot to another that spun in.

Boyd Rankin was Harmer’s 13th scalp of the match when he completely misjudged a slow full-toss and was an embarrassed lbw. Sunny Singh did not last long, stretching forward and edging to Cook at slip to complete a dream match for Harmer.

Day Three

Simon Harmer bowled 39 overs on a sultry day at Chelmsford, 32 of them unchanged in one marathon spell, to claim six for 92 in Warwickshire’s first innings and help Essex force the follow-on

The rest of the Essex team formed a guard of honour as the offspinner went off to a rousing ovation from a sizeable third-day crowd after taking his first five-wicket haul since joining Essex at the start of the season.

The South African, who has now taken 25 Specsavers County Championship wickets, helped dismiss Warwickshire for 283 in 109 overs, well short of the 392 target to make Essex bat again. The indefatigable Harmer was then back in action after six overs of Warwickshire’s second innings, and had Jonathan Trott lbw not playing a shot to the final ball of the day.

Warwickshire were 27 for two in the 11 overs available before the close, still 231 runs short of avoiding their fourth innings defeat in six Championship games this summer.

Essex, on the other hand, will be looking to winkle out the final eight wickets and extend their lead at the top of Division One.

Harmer bowled at the Hayes Close End from 11.30am until 4.35pm, with only breaks for lunch and tea. During a marathon stint in the afternoon session he had figures of 17-10-20-1. So difficult was he to get away that the usually belligerent Rikki Clarke took 30 balls to get off the mark. Only some big-hitting late on by Jeetan Patel – who claimed 36 of his run-a-ball 71 from the 28 deliveries he faced from Harmer – dented his figures.

At times Harmer had five close-catchers around the bat and there were frequent loud entreaties to ‘catch it’ or appeal for lbw. It was never easy for the batsmen as they had to beware balls bouncing off a length and others that kept low.

Even when Harmer was taken out of the attack, what might have been a well-deserved rest was only brief as he immediately switched to the River End. In his first over from the opposite end he had Keith Barker lbw to break an entertaining eighth-wicket stand of 76 with Patel. Seven balls later, he gained a measure of satisfaction by removing Patel to a return catch.

Apart from Patel, the only other Warwickshire innings of note was from Sam Hain, whose 58 was his best score of a scratchy season punctuated by numerous single-figure innings.

Essex took the prized wickets of Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell in the morning session, but it was not until 5.20pm that they finally had Warwickshire all out for 283, 258 behind.

Trott went to the fifth ball of the day, taking the bait dangled invitingly by Wagner. The former England batsman had got away with it the ball before when he ducked under a bouncer, left his bat hanging in the air and inadvertently top-edged for four over the wicketkeeper’s head. Wagner dug in another short-pitched delivery and Trott pulled it firmly but straight into Varun Chopra’s hands at square leg.

Bell was watchful if not entirely comfortably against Harmer. The spinner got one to turn and took the outside edge, but the ball dropped just short of Alastair Cook at slip. However, an hour and a half into the session, by which time he had eked out another 24 to his overnight eight not out, he followed one from Harmer straight into Cook’s hands. With Hain, he put on 66 for the fourth wicket in 21 overs.

Hain reached a deserved fifty from 93 balls to the first delivery of the afternoon, turning Aaron Beard off his hip to fine leg for the required single.

Tim Ambrose was reprieved on 15 when Ryan ten Doeschate dived a fraction late at forward shot leg, and Hain received a let-off when he edged Paul Walter between first slip and wicketkeeper and Cook only got half a hand to it. Next ball, however, Hain nicked in a similar direction and James Foster swooped to his right to claim.

Hain batted for 127 balls for his 58 and had taken Warwickshire from 65 for three to 171 for five in 44 overs at the crease.

The return of Wagner did for Ambrose. He over-stretched to reach the ball outside off-stump, was unable to control the shot and fired straight to Varun Chopra at point for 25. Clarke stuck around for 45 balls for his seven before he was trapped lbw by Harmer.

Patel changed the tempo of the innings when he came in, and hoisted Harmer into the gardens at the Hayes Close End in the over after tea, and followed with another over midwicket.

Patel’s fifty, passing his previous best for the season, came from 48 balls, and when Barker departed, Patel had scored 58 of their 76-run partnership. Boyd Rankin became Harmer’s fifth scalp, his second lbw victim after changing ends. His sixth was not long in following.

Walter made a breakthrough in Warwickshire’s second innings in his first over when Ian Westwood got one that left him to be caught behind.

Day Two

Ravi Bopara and James Foster both collected long-awaited and emotional centuries after compiling a record sixth-wicket stand of 229 as Essex kept Warwickshire in the field for more than five sessions at a sweltering Chelmsford.

Bopara had gone nearly three years without a Specsavers County Championship ton to his name; by the time he was out just after tea, having batted for eight hours, he was within eight runs of a double-century.

Foster was even more demonstrative when he reached his first three-figure total for nearly 13 months – he leapt in the air and pumped his fist three times in the direction of the home changing room. It was a perfect repost after he had been ousted from wicketkeeping duties for the first four Championship games of the season by the return to the county of Adam Wheater.
Foster’s 66-over stand with Bopara was a record for an Essex sixth-wicket against Warwickshire – beating the 140 by Keith Fletcher and Allan Border at Edgbaston in 1988. It enabled the Division One leaders to declare five overs post-tea, just after the third new-ball had been taken, on 541 for nine.

By the close, Warwickshire were 56 for two, still 332 short of their follow-on target as they attempt to avoid a fourth innings defeat in seven Championship matches this summer.

Bopara’s previous century had been completed on July 1, 2014, against Gloucestershire, also at Chelmsford, and he had three times been out in the nineties, twice of 99, in the last 12 months alone. A few minutes before noon yesterday he clipped Jeetan Patel past backward point for the single that took him to the 27th first-class century of his career. At that point he had been at the crease for 221 balls.

When he went to a tired-looking heave-ho against Patel 158 balls later, playing all around it, he had hit 16 fours and three sixes, two of them straight and long from part-time spinner Andrew Umeed’s only over.

Foster, meanwhile, had not claimed a century since his 113 against Northamptonshire last May, but outscored Bopara for much of their time together. He brushed off a nasty blow to the side of his helmet from a Boyd Rankin bouncer by hooking Rikki Clarke for the four that took him to a 159-ball century. By the time he was caught at wide mid-on by a tumbling Keith Barker for 121, he had faced 182 balls and hit 16 fours and a towering six over long-leg.

After Foster’s departure, Warwickshire claimed three wickets for 32 as the Essex tail joined Bopara in adding quick runs towards the declaration. Sunny Singh raced in from the long-on boundary to dismiss Paul Walter for a bright 16 before trapping Simon Harmer lbw. Patel bowled Bopara to claim his fourth wicket in a marathon spell of 45 overs and season’s best figures of four for 138. Neil Wagner’s 25-ball cameo at the end left him 24 not out.

That it is fast becoming Bopara’s match was made apparent when his underarm throw from short extra cover accounted for opener Andrew Umeed to make the first dent in Warwickshire’s response. Five overs, and three runs later, Alastair Cook snapped up Ian Westwood low down at slip to give Harmer his 20th Championship wicket since the former South African Test spinner’s arrival on a Kolpak contract in the spring.

Day One

Nick Browne and Ravi Bopara both posted their highest scores in the Specsavers County Championship this season and combined in a fourth-wicket stand of 127 to underpin Essex’s innings on a stiflingly-hot first day at Chelmsford.

The two individual innings were of great contrast. Browne batted for five hours 12 minutes in grinding out a 244-ball 84; Bopara gave his partner a 160-minute lead and was within 13 runs of him when Browne departed. They were together for 42 overs in the middle of a cloudless day.
Browne’s innings was lulls punctuated by the occasional outburst and beat his previous highest score this season, the 77 he scored in the second innings against Surrey 10 days ago; Bopara’s knock was of outbursts punctuated by the occasional lull. He finished the day unbeaten on 84, 20 runs ahead of the 64 he recorded in the first innings at Guildford.

That Essex managed just 263 for five from a full 96-over day highlights what a day for painstaking run-scoring it was. A measure of just how slow the day was can be seen by when milestones were reached: the first fifty came up in the 23rd over, 100 in the 46th and 150 in 59th. The new-ball was taken after 80 overs with the score on just 217 for three.

Rikki Clarke took two quick wickets with the second cherry to peg Essex back at a time when they threatened to build a huge total and inflect Warwickshire’s fourth innings defeat of the season.
Essex were obdurate from start after electing to bat on the same strip on which 743 runs, for the loss of 10 wickets, in the Royal London Cup semi-final on Friday. It was slightly different on a soporific first half and a hour before Patel was introduced at the Hayes Close End.

With the final ball of his third over, he had Alastair Cook thrusting a leg down the wicket to kill the spin and being rapped on the pad and ending a first-wicket stand of 60.

Cook had been the more forthright of the openers – Nick Browne took 47 balls to reach double-figures – and started the scoreboard moving from the 23rd ball of the day with a glorious off-drive for four. When he was out for 39 from 64 balls, he had added another three boundaries.

Tom Westley had just swept Patel for four when he played forward and got a decisive edge to be held at slip by Rikki Clarke.

Browne was almost added to Patel’s scalps soon after lunch when the ball dollied off a forward prod and just eluded Sam Hain at short leg.

Patel had a three-over breather after bowling unchanged for 11 overs with figures of two for 28. Three balls into the interregnum, Boyd Rankin had Varun Chopra inexplicably leaving alone a straight-ish delivery to be bowled.

Bopara went after Patel when he returned, taking two steps down the wicket and depositing the ball over the bowler’s head for six. He collected a two from a paddle-sweep and a four, handsomely driven through the covers.

Browne went to his fifty from 161 balls with a three carved through midwicket off Patel. His first real show of aggression came 220 balls into his innings when he took several strides down the pitch and smashed Patel through mid-on for his sixth four.

Browne’s seventh boundary, driven through the covers off Sunny Singh, brought up the 100 partnership in 35 overs. Next ball, he swept another four to bring up Essex’s 200 in the 77th over. Bopara then took advantge of a full-toss by Singh to go past his previous highest Championship score of the season.

After his marathon effort, Browne’s innings finally ended when he was beaten for pace by Rikki Clarke and was bowled. Clarke claimed a second victim in quick succession when he had Ryan ten Doeschate almost doubled up by one that came back to leave him lbw for four.

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