Ireland won toss and elected to field.
In a change of pace from the T20 Blast, we got a blast from the past with a good old fashioned tour match. The hosts were much changed from their last County Championship game, with only Nick Browne keeping his place and leading the side, as the multi-format players were rested and kept back for their white ball commitments. Injury problems also dictated that four members of the Irish touring squad made their way into the Essex XI, with Curtis Campher, George Dockrell, Matthew Foster, and Mark Adair making up the numbers to ensure that everyone got game time before the Lord’s test.
The home side were asked to bat on a pitch with a tinge of green to it, and openers Nick Browne and Josh Rymell got off to a quick start with a flurry of boundaries off the bat of Rymell. The Irish new ball pair of Graham Hume and Craig Young then settled into their lines and lengths and brought the run rate under control, without ever looking particularly threatening. The tourists struck first when Craig Young brought one back into Rymell’s pads just as he was looking settled to remove him for 21. Nick Browne fell shortly after to the second ball of Thomas Mayes’ first spell when he misjudged a cut shot to feather one through to keeper Lorcan Tucker for a laboured 11 off of 51 balls.
This brought the first of the Irish guests to the wicket, Curtis Campher, who looked busy, alongside Robin Das who also looked to be positive when the opportunity presented itself. Das and Campher looked increasingly comfortable and brought up the 50 partnership just before the lunch interval, and Das also brought up his own 50 off just 57 balls (and his maiden first class 50 to boot) as he looked to be positive against the spin of Andy McBrine. Mayes then struck Campher on the pads to draw a LBW (which looked like it may have been sliding down leg) to send his compatriot back to the pavilion for 16. At lunch, the score was delicately poised with the hosts 100 for 3, with Das well set on 50 not out.
Post lunch, Irishman George Dockrell and Das pushed the scoring along by going at 5 an over, especially against the off spin of Andy McBrine. Robin Das brought up his maiden first class hundred, on his first-class debut, at a run-a-ball in a very classy innings. The pair carried on their merry way to bring up the 100 partnership off just 104 balls, as McBrine once again bore the brunt of the assault. McBrine eventually got his revenge by bowling Das following one shot too many, but not before an impressive 132 off 117 balls, sending a message to the Essex coaching staff that he may well be ready for more regular first XI cricket.
This brought Irish batter Mark Adair to the crease, who promptly sent the second ball he faced over McBrine’s head for 6 to continue the assault. Dockrell progressed serenely to his own 50 off 70 balls, as the pitch flattened out against the old ball, with the 250 coming up in just the 54th over. Dockrell fell right on the stroke of tea for a well-made 74 off 85 balls, caught by skipper Andy Balbirnie at slip off of the bowling of Graham Hume. Hume in particular has looked the pick of the seamers so far. By this time, the hosts had scored at better than a run a ball across the afternoon session, the Irish bowlers looked distinctly unthreatening as the hosts looked to have embraced the Bazball philosophy so in vogue at the moment.
2nd XI keeper-batter Will Buttleman fell for 1 shortly after the start of the evening session, cutting Fionn Hand to point where Harry Tector took an excellent diving catch. This brought another first-class debutant to the crease in 18-year-old Noah Thain, who signed a rookie contract with the club just a couple of days earlier. The memorable week didn’t last very long with the bat however, as Hand snuck one through Thain’s defences for just 3, to leave Essex 311/7. Another Irishman celebrated a half century as Mark Adair’s effort came up in just 48 balls with shots all around the wicket.
Another brief flurry of runs from Adair and young England U19 all-rounder Jamal Richards ended when Adair hooked one down Fionn Hand’s throat at deep square leg for an entertaining 62. The ninth wicket fell almost immediately as the last of the Irish contingent for Essex, Matthew Foster was LBW to Andy Brine for just 1. The innings concluded for 343 in the 72nd over, as young debutant Ehsan Kalley was undone by a short ball from Thomas Mayes that he spooned up for a simple catch to Lorcan Tucker behind the stumps. Richards was left not out on 17 in a nice little cameo which showed a small hint of his talents.
After being 280/4 at tea, the Irish bowlers will be delighted with their afternoon’s work to take 6 wickets for 63 runs in just 11 overs as the gulf of class between the internationals and the inexperienced second XI players showed. Thomas Mayes finished with 4 for 68 but was expensive, with perhaps the pick of the Irish seamers being Fionn Hand with 2 for 50. McBrine also finished with 2 for 98 but conceded his runs at 7 an over.
This gave the hosts 16 overs at the Irish batters before the close, as James McCollum and former Zimbabwean international PJ Moor opened up the innings. After a fairly sedate start, Jamal Richards found the outside edge of McCollum’s bat when he was on 6 and Browne gobbled up the catch at slip to make the first breakthrough with just 26 on the board. Richards looked impressive with the ball, bowling with pace, bounce, and getting the ball to move away from the right hander. He struck again to remove Irish skipper Andy Balbirnie for 0, caught smartly by fellow Irishman George Dockrell.
With less than 5 overs to go, this brought the traditional nightwatchman to the crease as seamer Graham Hume drew the short straw, but took the more traditional approach to nightwatchman duties rather than ‘nighthawk’ approach we saw from England in the winter. Hume and Moor successfully saw out the remainder of the day with little alarm to leave the Irish behind the eight-ball at the end of day one at 38/2 and 305 behind, with Moor not out on 20 and Hume unbeaten on 9. The Irish should see star batter Paul Stirling return for day two as he sat out day one due to being rested by management.
A good crowd at Chelmsford will have got their money’s worth on day one, as an entertaining day’s play brought runs, wickets and plenty of action. If this is anything to go by, then the Irish may look to fight fire with fire at Lords next week.