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Recent Match Report – Essex vs Yorkshire 22nd Match 2022

Essex 234 for 3 (Cook 107, Walter 89*) vs Yorkshire

And so it came to pass that England’s former captain duly racked up a chanceless century at Chelmsford, in front of a bustling spring crowd and with more than just the usual smattering of photographers and TV cameras in attendance.

Not that the innings told us much about Joe Root‘s readiness for his return to the Test ranks, however, for the ex-skipper in question was Root’s own predecessor Alastair Cook. With the sun on his back, and full faith in a surface from which he has now picked off 258 runs in five innings this season, Cook ground along in his inimitably bloodless fashion for 20 minutes shy of six hours, with Paul Walter unwavering alongside him, on 89 from 228.

It was all thoroughly serene for Essex as the shadows began to stretch over the County Ground – misleadingly serene, you might argue, given the off-field developments in the club’s slow-burn racism row. An open-faced nudge through third man – all angles and soft hands – took Cook to 99, then one ball later, a back-foot crack through point carried him through to first-class hundred No. 71.

But then, with a daddy seemingly at his mercy, Cook fatefully lost concentration with just four overs of the day remaining, under-edging a back-foot drive as Steve Patterson came round the wicket and departing with a swish of frustration but to a familiar standing ovation. It had been a similar scenario for his opening-day century against Kent, in fact – 100 from 266 balls then, 107 from 268 now. In his pomp, he wouldn’t have allowed a nightwatchman to get the best of the day two conditions, that’s for sure.

Root, in his first public outing since stepping down as England captain, will have to wait – although you sense he’s already seen enough to know that his own first-class hundred No. 37 is very much on the cards sometime this weekend – assuming his team-mates give him a look-in. As an aside, there has surely never been a non-international fixture boasting two men with a combined Test runs tally of 22,361 duking it out on opposing teams.

For the time being, Root was limited to three tidy overs of offspin in the afternoon session, while in an apparent demonstration of the “selfless” credentials that his successor Ben Stokes has called for in his Test team, he made only fleeting appearances on the periphery of the slip cordon – the suggestion being that he does not wish to disrupt Yorkshire’s more regular line-up of close catchers.

Mind you, Yorkshire’s position in this game might have been better had he done so. After Nick Browne’s departure to the third ball of the match, Harry Brook, at Root’s habitual position of first slip, dropped a sitter off Tom Westley that could have left Essex teetering at 10 for 2. He later repeated the error as Cook, in a solitary aberration, climbed into a loose drive one ball after his century with Jordan Thompson twice the luckless bowler. George Hill, Browne’s executor, also let a tough low chance fizz through his grasp at third slip – the second of two lives in as many overs for Walter who, to complete a catalogue of what-ifs, was dropped by Patterson in his followthrough on 12.

But all these moments were mere footnotes to another totemic grind from Cook, whose only moment of alarm arguably came on 64, when Walter’s long levers connected sweetly with a biff through the line off Dom Bess that damned near decapitated his team-mate as he ducked for cover at the non-striker’s end.

Cook’s opening gambit set the tone for the day. Essex’s innings was already 35 balls old before – to ironic cheers – he nudged a single off his legs to tick up the team’s first run, and leave them on a becalmed 1 for 1 after six overs: a powerplay this was not. His next scoring shot was a picture-perfect drive through the covers off Thompson, and seeing as that stroke tended to be the last one out of his locker during his Test career, it told you all you needed to know about another demon-free surface that doubtless meets the ECB’s new requirements but potentially at the cost of a short-term contest between bat and ball.

Yorkshire huffed and puffed to little avail. The green tinge on the pitch had persuaded Patterson to bowl first after winning the toss, but without the cutting edge of Haris Rauf, who pulled his side after a first-innings five-for against Kent – let alone Matt Fisher and his euphemistically worded stress reaction in his back – there was little traction to be had from any of the remaining quicks.

Instead it was left to Dom Bess to carry the first-day burden with 23 tidily delivered overs, including the second of the two wickets they managed in the lifespan of their first new ball. The timing of that breakthrough was serendipitous, as Tom Westley feathered an edge through to Harry Duke in Bess’s first over, although the ball itself was little more than a wide long-hop. Nevertheless, as Bess demonstrated with his five-wicket haul in Sri Lanka last year, before his form disintegrated on the India leg of that trip, he does have a happy knack for such breakthroughs.

By the close, all eyes had turned to Walter, and his quietly determined quest to atone for his disappointment against Northamptonshire last week. On that occasion, his excellent match-saving rearguard had ended seven runs shy of a maiden first-class hundred; today he left the field 11 runs short of the mark, but crucially, he did so having leant on his bat handle at the non-striker’s end while watching Sam Cook do his nocturnal duties. Having come so close so recently, he’s determined to make amends at the earliest opportunity.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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