|Tymal Mills (to the right of Westley and looking round) is the centre of Essex's attention on a day that ended in an all too familiar fashion for Essex.|
There was an injury blow to Essex before the start of play as Graham Napier, who has started the season very well, was ruled out with a calf injury. It's not just a blow to the county, but a blow to Napier himself, who has had many injury problems throughout his career. The injury meant that Tim Phillips came in for his first Championship match of the season. There was no place for Charl Willoughby, except seemingly as official Essex cheerleader. Yorkshire won the toss and they decided that they would bat first.
The woeful Essex batting performance (more of that later) will get the headlines, but it should not overshadow the performance of Tymal Mills. If you read this blog regularly, you'll know that I rate him a lot. It's not just because of Suffolk bias, although it certainly helps, it's because he's quick. Very quick.
Mills, 19, is a left-arm pace bowler, who has only played a handful of first-class games for Essex. He was quite expensive today, going at nearly 5 an over, but he made an impact and had a huge say in a Yorkshire collapse which saw them all out for 246. He started off from the Rugby Stand End, but was not at all happy. The poor weather was making the run ups muddy and no amount of sawdust could make him less concerned. As Tom Craddock, the legbreak bowler who wasn't in the squad today but is a graduate of Leeds MET, walked past, Mills informed him how delighted he was to be bowling from the Kirkstall Lane End.
All the Essex bowlers were expensive today. Even the usually metronomic Dave Masters got tonked about before finally remembering that he's only going to beat them with naggingly accurate bowling, rather than attempting to bounce Phil Jaques at 78mph. Maurice Chambers and Greg Smith were especially disappointing today. Chambers picked up 2 wickets, but not before he'd been hit about by the Yorkshire top order. After his effort, Greg Smith later tweeted that he's had better birthdays. A golden duck and being smashed for 50 off 10 wicketless overs? Many happy returns.
Still, after Yorkshire had been 184-3, to get them all out for 246 was a decent effort from Essex. And Yorkshire, actually. McGrath, Rashid and Shahzad all played shots (or in McGrath's case, didn't) that were so inexplicably awful that they'd have to be rated 18 before being released at the cinema. Jaques played superbly on his return to the county and hardly put a foot wrong in his 126, before he decided he'd finally accept his invitation to the collapsing party and got out to Maurice Chambers. Westley also bowled and he picked up the key wicket of the Yorkshire captain, Andrew Gale, after he and Jaques put on a partnership of 86 for the third wicket.
Essex's batting had started well against Gloucestershire. It was almost too well. This was the side that, last season, regularly reached three figures with at least 5 wickets down. It seemed like Essex took one look at the Yorkshire scorecard and thought, "Sod this, anything they can do, we can do better."
Sidebottom and Shahzad started incredibly well. Both were getting angry and both deserved a wicket. The breakthrough came at the end of the 9th over. Sidebottom angrily appealed at the umpire as the freshly shaven Billy Godleman, having made a career best equalling score against Glouchestershire, was seemingly struck on the pad. After a slight hesitation, the umpire raised his finger and Godleman was on his way. He didn't seem too happy about it. He probably thought it hit bat first, but it's probably better he went off with his life spared, as Sidebottom was looking angry.
Westley came and went for a golden duck, again to Sidebottom. Down at the other end, overseas signing Alviro Petersen was being roughed up by Ajmal Shahzad. Shahzad was bowling well after an incredibly torrid 2011. Petersen managed to edge one through the slip cordon, prompting Shahzad to release a crude, high-pitched shriek that echoed round the ground.
It wasn't Shahzad who got his wicket though. Sidebottom was replaced by Anthony McGrath who, thankfully for Ravi Bopara, managed to release some pressure with some relatively friendly medium pacers. Shahzad was replaced by the older-than-you-think-he-is Steve Patterson, who unleashed an over that caused me to slump into my seat sobbing at fine leg.
First Petersen, who'd looked uncomfortable, scratchy and he didn't particularly like Britain's idea of April, departed. He was out LBW. In came Adam Wheater who, if this match were in Essex, would be the perfect player for this type of situation. He wasn't. He was gone for a four ball duck. Greg Smith walked to the crease. He walked straight back to the pavilion with the second golden duck of the innings.
If you've watched Ravi Bopara play in the whites for England, or for Essex in early April last year, then you'd have found most of his innings flash before your eyes. He, somehow, managed to survive to the close. He played watchfully. He survived many deliveries that went past the edge, managed to keep some edges down and did actually play a couple of good shots, including a leg sided flick and a cut for four. He and captain James Foster managed to survive until the close, leaving Essex on 72-5.
Essex will need these two to perform tomorrow. With no Napier and Phillips having gone missing for much of the afternoon session (he didn't bowl and Willoughby was on for much of it), Essex's tail is looking quite long. Masters can try and hit it, but apart from that, there's nothing of great substance. Essex only won one game away from home last season, and that was against Leicestershire. Before that, the last time they won away was in 2009 and that was against Derbyshire to seal promotion to Division One.
Unless the weather intervenes, or Essex pull off a magic batting performance against a strong Yorkshire bowling line up, Essex may well be facing their first defeat of the season and having to deal with the top order batting demons all over again.