Alastair Cook struggles to half century as Essex chase first victory

Scyld Berry
Alistair Cook at Taunton - Rex Features

Alastair Cook made 52 in his first innings since he resigned as England’s Test captain, then set about chasing a target of 255 to give Essex their first victory back in the first division.

In the morning Cook picked up on 39 not out, and was ill at ease against Somerset’s left-arm spinner, Jack Leach, having been all at sea during the winter against India’s left-arm spinner Ravi Jadeja, who dismissed him six times in the Test series. 

With a more concerted, stronger action, Leach looks at least as good as he did last season when he was the leading England-qualified wicket-taker in Division One.

Cook edged an attempted cut at Leach straight past slip, and twice inside-edged drives past his leg stump, as Leach found a little turn at good pace from the River Tone end. 

The handsome cover-drives of Friday evening against Somerset’s pace bowlers disappeared. For almost an hour Cook had to battle without rhythm in his strokes.

Cook battled against the spin Credit: Rex Features

The hard work having been done by Leach, Cook was dismissed by the first ball of the day that he faced from Lewis Gregory, bowling from over the wicket from the old pavilion end. 

Cook might have come forward, but he hung back in his crease, and also hung out his bat as the ball angled across him. The inside edge brushed his pads before removing his off-stump bail.

As Leach bowled Ravi Bopara, sweeping, behind his legs, and Dan Lawrence – Essex’s saviour last weekend against Lancashire – missed an on-drive and was leg-before for 141 runs fewer, and Ryan ten Doeschate clipped to midwicket, Essex lurched to 91 for seven. 

Somerset’s total of 209 had been very modest on a pitched designed for their left-arm spinners but was otherwise undemanding, yet they took a first-innings lead of 80. Neil Wagner, the 31-year-old New Zealand Test bowler, returned figures of six for 48.

Somerset lost Marcus Trescothick to a questionable lbw, while their new captain, Tom Abell, made a single run in the match. Left-armer Wagner took five wickets for 17 runs in 34 balls before Somerset’s final pair of Leach and Craig Overton joined forces to put on 50 and set a target of 255. Cook made an unbeaten four in his second innings, leaving Essex to score another 245 runs today to win.

Sir Neville Cardus would have been turning in his grave not to have been present at the Kia Oval to see Shivnarine Chanderpaul bat for 482 minutes. The glue turns 43 later this season but remains as adhesive as ever. 

Chanderpaul was in obdurate mood at the Oval Credit: Getty Images

None of Lancashire’s old-time blockers – not Harry Makepeace, not Geoff Pullar, not Harry Pilling – has been more dour and obdurate than Chanderpaul, who rescued Lancashire from 67 for five, just when Surrey might have been thinking this was going to be their season, and nudged them up to 470.

Chanderpaul added 243 with Jordan Clark, another of the Cumbrians making a mark, whose 140 was his maiden century at the highest level. The Guyanese Kolpak eventually reached the 74th century of his first-class career – compensation to Lancashire for dropping a sitter at short extra cover, offered by Tom Westley, which probably cost them victory in their previous game against Essex.

Some consistent batting by Yorkshire – which had been lacking in their opening game – gave them control over Warwickshire, trying to avoid their second defeat of the season, while the most welcome innings was played by Michael Carberry after Middlesex had totalled 356. 

Arguably the unluckiest player of recent times in being chosen so infrequently for England’s Test and white-ball teams, and after missing most of last season with cancer, Carberry finished on 84 of Hampshire’s 209 for four. Sean Ervine had contributed 53.

In Division Two, Durham were surprised by an unforeseen century stand between Luke Fletcher and James Pattinson, while Gloucestershire’s Will Tavare put the disappointment of last season behind him by converting his overnight score into a century against Leicestershire. 

But the all-round display came from Jofra Archer, who used to bowl quick for West Indies Under-19s but is 

qualified for England through his English mother, and who followed his seven wickets for Sussex with an unbeaten 60 off 72 balls against Kent at Hove.

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