Report and reaction as Tom Westley-inspired Essex battle back at Sussex
Tom Westley continued his productive start to the season with an important 86 as he held Essex’s reply together on the second day of their Specsavers County Championship match against Sussex at Hove.
After England captain Alastair Cook, wearing his new ECB-approved helmet, had gone for one, Westley fell just 14 runs short of making his third first-class hundred of the season following 110 against Cambridge MCCU and 121 against Gloucestershire.
The 27-year-old hadn’t played a false shot until he attempted to pull a ball off left-arm spinner Danny Briggs and was caught at mid-wicket, having faced 153 balls and hit 14 fours including three in an over off Ollie Robinson.
Essex, replying to Sussex’s 360, needed Westley’s resilience against a persevering Sussex attack who shared the wickets around as the visitors reached 252 for 7 before bad light ended the second day with 13 overs not bowled.
Jesse Ryder (51) helped Westley add 83 in 23 overs for the fifth wicket in the day’s most productive stand, but Essex spent much of the rest of the day rebuilding on a wicket which occasionally offered good bounce for the seamers and some slow turn for Briggs.
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After Jamie Porter had wrapped up Sussex’s first innings by picking up two wickets in successive balls in the first over of the day, all eyes were on Cook and in particular his choice of helmet after he had been advised by the ECB to wear their approved head gear with its fixed grille.
Cook, watched by England assistant coach Paul Farbrace, reluctantly took their advice but had barely got used to it when Steve Magoffin got one to seam away and he was taken at second slip by Chris Nash in the third over.
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The Sussex seamers bowled well as a unit. Ollie Robinson took a tumbling return catch off Nick Browne’s looping inside edge while 19-year-old George Garton again impressed as he picked up two wickets. The left-armer had Ravi Bopara caught behind off the glove for 17 and then claimed James Foster after tea for 14 via an inside edge.
Magoffin picked up Dan Lawrence in his second spell when he pushed forward to another delivery which nipped away off the seam and after Westley’s departure, Ajmal Shahzad benefitted from a change of ends to remove Ryder, who had just reached a 70-ball half-century, caught at second slip.
Briggs bowled 22 economic overs unchanged either side of tea and deserved Westley’s wicket but his figures were spoiled by Ryan ten Doeschate, who struck successive sixes down the ground in his unbeaten 32.
In worsening light, the Essex captain and Graham Napier put on 33 unbeaten for the eighth wicket before umpires Tim Robinson and Paul Baldwin took the teams off.
Essex batting coach, Anthony McGrath, said: I think the game is pretty evenly poised after two days. Both teams will feel if they play good cricket from here they have got a good chance of winning.
It’s a funny sort of pitch, wickets have tended to fall just when you think there is a good partnership building. There is definitely a bit in it for the seamers but I thought we batted well. Tom Westley’s in good form and there was a good little partnership at the end for us between Ryan ten Doeschate and Graham Napier. Hopefully they can continue that tomorrow.”
Mark Davis, Sussex’s head coach, added: “The first two days have seen some really good cricket played. I thought we bowled good lines and length today.
“George Garton bowled with good aggression and Danny Briggs held an end for us. Early in the season that’s going to be his role but hopefully later on, when it gets drier, he will be even more of a threat.
“We want to go in with five bowlers because we feel that gives us the best chance of winning. It means our batsmen and all-rounders have to deliver but we’re backing them to do do that and by having five bowlers they can operate in short, sharp spells.
“We are missing our captain Luke Wright again but had a minor wrist operation today and should be able to practice in five to six days and should be OK to play in our next Championship game against Leicester on May 1.”