A hard fought day’s cricket at Bristol ended with honours just about even. Essex, having won the toss on a decent batting pitch were all out for 319 at the close.
Given that they were 121/2 at lunch that will be a disappointment for the visitors, but they declined to 169/5 early in the afternoon session, a somewhat precarious position with all their key batters, including Alastair Cook, back in the pavilion. That the visitors reached their eventual total was largely due to a stand of 115 for the sixth wicket between captain James Foster, who made 63, and Ryan ten Doeschate who was out shortly before the close for a patient 73.
Gloucestershire bowled well throughout the day with quick bowlers Craig Miles and James Fuller, together with medium paced all-rounder Benny Howell, each taking three wickets. In fact, had the home side’s catching been as reliable in the morning session Essex may not have reached what is a respectable total.
This morning Essex won the toss and batted on a fresh, breezy day which promised decent batting conditions. There was an early escape for Nick Browne when in the second over he attempted a cut at a wide ball from Fuller and was dropped by skipper Geraint Jones, deputising behind the stumps for the injured Gareth Roderick, who is playing solely as a batsman in this match. Browne looked to be profiting handsomely from his good fortune, so it was a surprise when he scooped a delivery from Liam Norwell to short mid-wicket on 36 with the Essex total at 58.
Alastair Cook looked to be continuing his good Test form, hitting fours through the covers off both front and back feet from Miles and then from Howell, but Howell was unlucky to have Cook dropped at first slip by Michael Klinger when he was on 34. In truth it was an easier chance than Jones’s miss earlier and one that looked as if it may be costly.
Cook’s reprieve didn’t prove to be as expensive as it might have been when Howell trapped him lbw shortly before lunch with his score on 48 and Essex at 112, when a long pre-Ashes workout had looked a certainty for the England captain. Although it wasn’t to be today, his form looked as good as it had been in the two series against the West Indies and New Zealand.
Essex would have been pleased with their morning’s work, lunch being taken at 121/2 from 29 overs. Tom Westley looked in impressive form, on 33, and Ravi Bopara on four.
In the first over after lunch Westley became the third Essex batsman to get out when well set, wafting at Norwell outside the off-stump to give Jones an easy catch with no addition to his, or Essex’s lunch score. But Gloucestershire’s day of missed chances continued as Bopara was given a second chance, Will Tavaré shelling an opportunity at third slip off Miles’s bowling when the Essex all-rounder had six with the total on 127.
Essex continued to progress in bright fashion with pleasant attacking shots punctuated by falling wickets. Jesse Ryder’s excellent season with the bat ended in disappointing fashion as he skied a mistimed pull to be caught by Jones for 17, becoming Norwell’s third scalp at 163/4.
Six runs later Bopara was lbw to Fuller for 30 scored in the stylish, confident fashion that is very much the trademark of the England international. He is still one of the players county cricket followers most like to watch. This is his benefit year, but the current resurgence of England’s ODI form means that he cannot be too hopeful of adding to his 13 Test caps and 120 ODI appearances.
After the morning of attractive cameos from the Essex batsmen it was left to Ryan ten Doeschate and captain James Foster to dig in and rebuild the innings when the visitors looked in danger of wasting first use of a pitch which seemed to possess few demons for the batters. Ten Doeschate, better known for his white ball exploits, was particularly cautious, leaving any aggression that was displayed to Foster. The pair added an unbeaten 71 for the sixth wicket at tea- ten Doeschate 24 not out and Foster unbeaten on 41 with Essex 239/5.
The two Essex stalwarts continued after tea to forge a sizeable total until Foster, who had somewhat surprisingly been the more adventurous partner, was caught and bowled by Howell for 63 in the 77th over with the score on 284. The pair had put on 115 for the sixth wicket. Howell juggled the reasonably straightforward chance, but unlike his three colleagues earlier in the day, this time he clung on. Ten Doeschate duly completed his fifty, but any thoughts that he and new partner Graham Napier had about looking towards the second morning were dashed as the veteran Napier was lbw to Howell for one, the all-rounder’s third wicket on a day in which he bowled with commendable accuracy.
In the 89th over Gloucestershire took the new ball, and in the first over of his spell Fuller accounted for Matthew Salisbury when he edged to Jones behind the wicket to reduce Essex to 302/8. Ten Doeschate was ninth out, giving Jones his fourth catch and Miles his third wicket. Essex were all out for 319 when Jamie Porter was bowled by Fuller with the last ball of the day.