A much-changed Essex side won the toss and elected to bat first on a sun kissed day at Chelmsford, on what looked to be an excellent day for batting. They had an injury scare in the warmup when overseas player Doug Bracewell was forced to pull out after injuring his shoulder. Third choice keeper Will Buttleman also came into the side as both Adam Rossington and Michael Pepper were both nursing finger injuries, plus batter Dan Lawrence was away on England duty and Shane Snater was rested. Paul Walter came into the side for Lawrence on the back of some excellent performances in the Blast, and Ben Allison replaced Snater.
The visitors gave a first-class debut to exciting young off spinner Shoaib Bashir, who himself had produced some promising performances with the white ball this season. In also came Scotland seamer Josh Davey, opening batter Sean Dickson, and young seamer Kasey Aldridge. England’s Jack Leach has been ruled out with a stress fracture, while Lewis Gregory, Steven Davies were rested for the Blast, and promising young batter James Rew, currently the leading first class run scorer in the country, took the gloves.
The Essex openers, Sir Alistair Cook and Nick Browne saw off the first hour with a couple of close calls as the new ball pairing of New Zealand seamer Matt Henry and England’s Craig Overton fizzed a few past the outside edge. Browne was particularly finding it difficult to score but was secure enough. Cook played a couple of signature back foot punches off Henry to show the old magic is still there. Browne started to expand against the change bowlers once the new ball had lost some of its shine as the hosts started positively and looked set for a long day’s batting. However, Browne felt like he did not fancy batting in the sunshine and spooned a gentle catch to Tom Kohler-Cadmore for a well made 33, but not before posting their highest first wicket partnership of the season of 66. Skipper Tom Westley joined Cook and looked assured as the pair saw Essex through to lunch on 111/1. Debutant Bashir bowled 8 tidy overs before lunch and caused Cook some problems through turn and bounce. Cook was not out on 47, while Westley went to tea on 23 not out.
Shortly after the resumption, Cook brought up his 196th first-class half century with a beautiful cover drive off Matt Henry. The hosts were coasting along rather serenely as the second wicket produced a 70-run partnership before Craig Overton produced a beauty to nick off Tom Westley for 37, with keeper Rew taking a fine diving catch to his right. Another 50-run partnership between Cook and Paul Walter was ended by a snorter by Kasey Aldridge when he was bowled for 27, with Cook doing Cook-like things and gently working his way towards his yet another first class hundred, but was still six runs short of it when the tea interval arrived, with Matt Critchley making a classy and positive 35 not out, as the hosts were nicely poised on 235 for 3 off 64 overs.
The evening session began fairly sedately as the Essex pair eased themselves back into proceedings, but Craig Overton limped part way through his 15th over when he appeared to turn an ankle in his follow through which will be a blow to Somerset both in this game with the new ball 13 overs away when he went off and for the immediate future, and to his own England aspirations if he does not recover quickly. Critchley then moved nicely along to his own half century off if just 45 balls, and was his 5th half century of the season in just his 7th game – a model of consistency if ever there was one, and currently has more 50+ scores in red ball cricket than anyone else in the County Championship this season although yet to convert one of those into a three figure score. Forty minutes into the evening session, Cook finally managed his first run since the resumption, and there was a strong chance that Critchley could beat him to a hundred. At times, it looked like two different games going on, Critchley was smashing the bowling to all parts of the County Ground, while Cook was content to bide his time and accumulate on his terms. He moved to 99 with a push down the ground that was mis-fielded at mid-on and moved to his 74th first class hundred off of 210 balls with a leg glance to fine leg for four, having 37 balls since tea to make those final six runs. They also brought up the 100 partnership between them off of 129 balls, with Critchley understandably dominating it with 78 of those.
The second new ball always presents a conundrum to a fielding captain, the hardness of the new ball can often help the seamers extract more movement and wicket taking opportunities, alternatively it flies to the fence even quicker. Sadly, for Somerset, it was the latter and not the former as a flurry of boundaries resulted from both the blades of Cook and Critchley as they piled on the agony deep into the evening session. One small mercy for the visitors is that Craig Overton quickly recovered from his ankle injury earlier in the day and was able to take the new ball, and bowled with some path, even if without much threat. This also enabled Critchley to continue on his merry way towards his first first-class hundred of the season, off of just 116 balls. Just when it seemed that these two would see out the day, Davey rapped Cook on the pads to win the LBW decision and remove Cook for 128 off 244 balls and break an excellent partnership of 153. This meant that Ben Allison was sent out as nightwatchman to see out the final five overs of the day, which he did with little alarm as Essex finished the day extremely well placed on 360 for 4 with Matt Critchley unbeaten on 119 alongside Ben Allison on 4, and in full control of the game.