Lancashire’s hopes of adding the LV= County Championship Division Two trophy to their 2015 silverware haul are fading after day two of their match against Essex at Chelmsford. With day one washed out entirely by rain, the home side’s middle order took advantage of favourable batting conditions to leave Essex 328-7 at the close.
Needing nine more points than Surrey can manage in their match against Northamptonshire, and therefore a win, Lancashire have plenty to do and just two more days to in which to do it if they are to return to Division One as Champions.
A hundred from Jesse Ryder, 99 from Ravi Bopara and a punchy fifty from Ryan Ten Doeschate rescued Essex from 29-3, after James Anderson and Glen Chapple exploited the first new ball to good effect.
Lancashire’s decision to field first looked to be the right one when Alastair Cook, playing his third Championship match of the season and his first of any nature since the final Ashes test a month ago, was given out LBW for just one run to the second ball he faced from his international teammate, Anderson.
After the previous ball had swung away from the left-handed Cook, it was a sharp in-swinger that rapped him on the pads. The England captain has seen this trademark Anderson plan executed many time times before and will be glad that the next time he sees it, he’s likely to be able to return to celebrating, rather than ruing, such mastery of a cricket ball. This was the third time in his eight Championship innings versus the Red Rose County that Cook has fallen to England’s leading test wicket taker.
Bowling with equal control of line and length at the other end was 41 year-old Chapple. He had Tom Westley, who will tour with the England Lions this winter, caught by on-loan wicketkeeper Phil Mustard for a duck in the sixth over. Nick Browne had scored 27 of Essex’s 29 runs when Anderson caught him at third slip off the bowling of Chapple.
Bopara and Ryder then set about rebuilding Essex’s innings in contrasting styles. Their job was aided by some inferior bowling from Lancashire’s first and second change seamers, Tom Bailey and Jordan Clark, who struggled to exercise the control demonstrated by Lancashire’s new-ball pairing.
Bopara did well in seeing off the majority of the remainder of Chapple’s twelve over spell from the River End, in which he continued to probe the batsmen’s outside edges while Ryder took an instant liking to Bailey, who struggled with his length. Ryder dealt largely in boundaries; cover driving, cutting and pulling Bailey as he reached lunch three short of fifty. The altogether more circumspect Bopara had fidgeted his way to 20 at the same stage, with Essex on 96-3.
Ryder’s fifty off 59 balls came in the first over after lunch, whilst more wayward Lancashire bowling allowed Bopara to find some fluency after the interval. Both men drove the ball authoritatively and even the returning Anderson was on the receiving end of some crisp stroke play, as the ageing ball proved less cooperative through the air.
Bopara brought up only his third fifty of the Championship season with an exquisite straight drive off Luis Reece in the 51st over The 150 partnership followed in Reese’s next over, when Ryder launched the 25 year-old left-arm seamer into the front gardens of the semi-detached houses at the Hayes Close end.
Ryder’s hundred arrived in the next over, the milestone reached in just 115 balls. This was his second Championship century of the season and his fourth for Essex since joining the club at the start of last year. In bringing up his ton, the New Zealander had scored just of 14 runs on the on-side, highlighting his dominance in driving through the covers and Lancashire’s generosity in bowling to this strength.
Having reached three figures, it looked as if Ryder might become even more destructive when he pulled the returning Bailey for six over backward square leg. With his next ball, however, the bowler was able to take some revenge for the brutality meted out to him when he bowled Ryder for 116 off 138 balls, an innings that had included 17 fours and three sixes.
This ended a partnership of 186 with Bopara, who was unbeaten on 66 at the tea interval two overs later with Essex now well-placed on 225-4.
After tea, Bopara and new-man Ten Doeschate, despite the occasional moment of alarm in running between the wickets, looked untroubled.
Ten Doeschate scored quickly and played some lovely shots in making his seventh Championship fifty of the season. A first century of the campaign was beyond him, however, as he fell for 59 off 71 balls when he toed Anderson to Chapple at mid-off, leaving Bopara unbeaten on 99 at the other end.
This is as far as Bopara got, as he fell agonisingly short of what would have also been the first century of a difficult season for the former England international. He fell victim to the second new-ball as Anderson had him caught behind with ten overs of the day remaining.
Mark Pettini (8) played on attempting to leave the ball soon before the close to give Anderson his fourth wicket of the innings and Lancashire a slim chance of forcing an unlikely victory.