Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mistaken Identity, Frostbite and Running Companions: Day 1 of Essex v Gloucestershire

Billy Godleman (right) is embraced by captain James Foster as he reaches Essex's first County Championship century of the season. 
Portman Road in an easterly wind had nothing on this. On Sunday, when I went to Cambridge to watch Essex play the university side, I got sunburnt. Today, I probably came close hyperthermia. And so, in this ridiculous weather of this green and pleasant land, begins another glorious season of county cricket.

Cloudy and overcast, Gloucestershire had no hesitation in electing to field first when they when the toss. Charl Willoughby, having only bowled 6 overs in Cambridge due to a tight groin, was ruled out for Essex. Alviro Petersen made his debut and added some much needed experience to the top order. There was no place for Jaik Mickleburgh, but Mark Pettini returned to the Essex fold after what has been a fairly turbulent two years for the former skipper.

Early wickets are Essex's forte and Petersen, having hit a couple of boundaries, decided to attempt to extinguish any early season optimism and depart with the score on 19. The majority of Essex's opening partnerships last season were nothing to shout home about, but Petersen, having arrived in the country on Tuesday can only improve. Petersen's departure brought Tom Westley to the crease, with him deciding to grab the initiative and bring Essex's run rate up to nearly four an over.

Westley departed for 33 and Pettini departed for 9 soon after. Essex were in the all too familiar position of being three wickets down in double figures. Then in came Adam Wheater. 

The only photo I have of Wheater is of the shot that got him out, but he played superbly. He thrives in conditions where Essex have their backs to the wall, having done something similar against the same opposition back in August last year. It can be risky, but he's an aggressive player. He smacked a huge six over the top of the hospitality suite and into the car park behind and reached his 50 off only 31 deliveries. It was greeted with a standing ovation, usually reserved for a century.

He may look really small, but he packs one heck of a punch and he really helped Essex seize the momentum of the morning. Three wickets went down, but Essex went into lunch 146-3,. Wheater departed soon after lunch for a very entertaining 56 off 42 deliveries. The 22 year old is certainly one to watch this season.

Greg Smith came in, got 34 off 33 and then went. Along the way in the 50 partnership, he and Godleman had managed to steer Essex to their first bonus points of the season, as they passed the 200 mark. Godleman at this point had passed 50 and was building an innings that another Essex left hander would be proud of.

At 210-5, Essex had a good platform to build upon and captain Foster and Godleman built on it. In around 33 overs, the two put on 94 (if you play for Essex, it's a good number apparently) for the 6th wicket. Godleman reached his century with a boundary off James Fuller, having got past the 94 he made against Cambridge.

Billy, or Bernard/Barry as the gentlemen sat behind me christened him, Godleman played well today. He barely offered a chance to the Gloucestershire fielders and played watchfully, anchoring one end and rotating the strike with some ease. He equalled his career best of 130 with this innings and whilst it is only the first day of the season and there are far more dangerous attacks out there, it will be a confidence boost to Godleman after a poor 2011. 

James Foster and Graham Napier both provided Godleman with support. Foster fell four short of what would've been a deserved half century. The delight for Godleman was evident as he embraced Godleman before allowing him to salute the crowd. When he departed, Napier began his innings by listening to my Fantasy Cricket inspired pep talk/shout of, "Don't get a duck!" as he walked out to the crease. He hit his first ball for four.

Once Napier departed, Godleman quickly followed and Essex went from 357-7 to 364 all out. Chambers bagged a duck and Masters was the last man out for 9. Tymal Mills was not out on 0. 

Essex will be slightly disappointed that they couldn't reach 400 and claim all 5 bonus points on offer. They had the platform, but the tail unfortunately didn't wag. However, to score at nearly four an over on the first day of the season, having been put into bat in conditions that looked likely to be bowler friendly, is, compared to previous seasons, a fairly good start. With Cook and Bopara set to return from Sri Lanka in the coming weeks and Shah and ten Doeschate due back from the IPL at some point in May, Essex's batting line up can only be made to look stronger.

Tomorrow, it's over to the bowlers. David Masters will be hoping for a repeat of his 6-75 he got at the Colchester Festival last year and Napier will be looking to bring in some of the form he showed against Cambridge after a winter of nursing an elbow injury. Maurice Chambers, Greg Smith and Tymal Mills make up the rest of the bowling attack, with Tom Westley likely to bowl a couple of overs of off spin. Should Essex have a good day in the field, it may well pave the way to a decent start to the 2012 season.

Alviro Petersen gains a friendly companion on a pre-Nando's run around the Chelmsford outfield.
It's been a long winter and there's only so much you can refresh the scorecards of the domestic section of the southern hemisphere on Cricinfo. County cricket, you're a strange but absolutely wonderful world, and it's fantastic to have you back.

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