Don Topley: Lady Luck is shining on Essex Cricket Club, but they deserve their success

The sun is shining on Alastair Cook and Essex this season

The sun is shining on Alastair Cook and Essex this season - Credit: Archant

DON TOPLEY looks at Essex County Cricket Club’s superb start to the season in his latest On the Boundary column.

Essex challenge ambitious Surrey tomorrow in the fifth round of the Specsavers Division One County Championship at Chelmsford. Essex, after last week’s demolition of Hampshire, now sit proudly at the very top of the County Championship.

This is to go with their top Royal London One Day Cup placing and that mouth-watering semi-final home tie against the winners of Somerset or Notts, next month. 2017 season is beginning to blossom.

Their dressing room must be a vibrant place, full of confidence with everyone contributing. As with all sports when things go really well you enjoy some luck, perhaps decisions or fortune go with you. Fingers crossed, Essex hope ‘Lady Luck’ accompanies them a little further into the season.

Two and a half inches of rain fell in Chelmsford prior to the Hampshire Championship fixture and whilst the wicket was totally covered, the groundstaff were challenged in their preparations.

Essex, not by design, had a seam-friendly wicket waiting for visitors Hampshire, and the south coast side knew they would bowl first too, with the Championship ‘No-Toss’ rule.

The atmospheric and overcast conditions should aid the side bowling first and when Nick Browne was dismissed on the fifth ball of the first over, Essex were rightly worried. Hampshire also arrived undefeated in the County Championship, having dominated their three previous Four Day games.

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After just three overs and a delay due to some extremely heavy showers lunch was taken early. After this interval is where luck appeared.

When play resumed Hampshire’s ball became wet and soft very quickly. This is something club cricketers experience all the time but professionals less so.

Essex fortunately played and missed much and also had Alastair Cook surviving a huge LBW shout. Perhaps Hampshire bowled a little short hence the ‘play and misses’ – something Essex learned from.

With the seam and the ball now soft and less dangerous, Cook and Tom Westley batted beautifully – then another piece of luck came Essex’s way: Fidel Edwards walked off injured - unable to bowl. This is the third consecutive game where Hampshire have lost a bowler mid game.

Essex only lost their second wicket at the very end of Day One, some 243 splendid runs and 78 overs later.

The next morning Hampshire immediately took their second new ball, after the first was probably thrown far and long into the adjacent River Can. Essex’s last eight wickets were claimed for just 117 runs helped by the conditions and good bowling, especially from South African, Kyle Abbott.

Hampshire’s selection of a second spinner, Mason Crane, over Reece Topley was, in my opinion, crackers, especially as Hampshire knew they would bowl first.

There may be some pressure from ECB to get the young leggie in the XI – this was Crane’s first Championship game. Forcing Liam Dawson to open the batting over a specialised opening batsman, was equally daft.

Smells of trying to put a quart into a pint pot or muddled thinking, all to Essex’s great benefit. The host county were surprised and pleased to see Hampshire omit Topley in those spicy conditions.

I am sure that whilst waiting and being bowled out, the Essex seamers were licking their lips and rubbing their hands as the wicket was offering much movement for the bowlers.

Jamie Porter, Matt Quinn, Ravi Bopara and Neil Wagner all bowled beautifully and created havoc. Initially at 18/0 Hampshire collapsed to 18/5 as the home seamers enjoyed the conditions.

Overnight, I asked Chris Silverwood for BBC commentary about the options of Hampshire following on as the pitch was still offering much assistance.

Silverwood was potentially keen to entertain the idea, especially as the Essex bowlers had not endured a heavy workload.

Essex duly invited Hampshire to bat again after Jamie Porter’s excellent career best 5/24 and within minutes’ wickets were falling again in their second innings.

Essex completed a rout and all within three days. They duly deserved this emphatic victory and the day off.

A complete win for Essex – but for Hampshire their 20 wickets fell inside 85 overs which is alarming even on a seaming wicket.

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