They came in their thousands – about two and a half of them – not just to watch the former England captain in action. This was, after all, the first game of the season for Somerset and down here they like to check out Marcus Trescothick just to ensure he is still alive and moving freely.
But by the time Alastair Cook anchored himself to the crease most had departed. A break for bad light meant that most had pottered off for supper when he was two not out. But Cook has never been dependent on a pandering audience to drive himself towards excellence.
So against a backdrop of recently-vacated seats he delivered a minor masterclass that offered some timely reminders: that there remains a gulf between county and international cricket and that he remains a damn good player. Maybe some of Somerset’s bowlers were unnerved by the presence of one of England’s greats, however self-effacing he may seem.
Lewis Gregory and Jamie Overton, in particular, strained for something extra and were calmly punished. Gregory over-pitched and Cook cover drove exquisitely, always a sign that he is in good form. Overton was over-eager to impress and tore in raggedly. Cook cracked him effortlessly for three consecutive boundaries all from the centre of his bat. Another dismissive cover drive followed. At the close England’s opener was 38 not out and looking determined to consolidate his side in the first division.
Cook had already played a part in setting Essex on the way, albeit by doing his duty at first slip. Somerset had added 52 without much discomfort when he dived to his right to catch Trescothick off the bowling of Ravi Bopara. Earlier there had been a presentation to Trescothick to mark the start of his 25th season as a Somerset player, a memorable achievement soon to be followed by a forgettable shot.
Cook, after a juggle, also held on to a chance offered by Tom Abell. Thereafter only Dean Elgar, James Hildreth and Peter Trego threatened any permanence for Somerset. This was not due to demons in the pitch.
From the apparent security of 108 for two Somerset subsided haplessly to 209 all out. There was little help for the pacemen, moderate turn for the spinners. The batsmen, who had made so merry against Oxford University, now looked tentative and ring-rusty. The Essex bowlers were disciplined and parsimonious with the exception of Neil Wagner, who was hostile in his constant pursuit of wickets by bowling very full when the ball was new and very short when it was old. So he was often expensive but always menacing. But the true quality came from Cook in a late-evening cameo of such authority that it may disturb the sleep patterns of Abell, Somerset’s new captain.
For much of the first day of Middlesex’s title defence, life looked simple. Sam Robson (84) and Stevie Eskinazi (82) played elegant, unfussy innings, Hampshire’s itinerant attack looked inconsistent and, in Fidel Edwards’ case, injured; a big first innings total felt inevitable. But by day’s end, the champions were scrapping – the final 25 overs brought only 56 runs for three wickets – and honours were even. Middlesex ended the day at 290 for six.
Robson and Eskinazi shared 105 after Nick Gubbins fell caught behind to a swinging beauty from Edwards, who was soon leaving the field hamstrung; he looks unlikely to play a further part in this match. Robson was sharply dropped at second slip by Rilee Rossouw – who also left the field with a hand injury – on 40, but was otherwise untroubled. Hampshire had fed his well-known strengths – through point and midwicket – and while Eskinazi was slow to get going, he looked comfortable against Liam Dawson’s spin, dab-sweeping and pulling when he dropped short.
It was second slip who finally did for Robson, with Jimmy Adams taking a fine low catch, but Dawid Malan joined Eskinazi and they looked similarly at ease sharing 70. But when Malan – who had launched Dawson onto the Nursery Ground – wafted away from his body and was caught at first slip, life became tougher; Eskinazi and Adam Voges both played on with the ball nibbling – the latter to the first over of the new ball from Kyle Abbott.
The lights were on, Hampshire’s bowling had tightened considerably and John Simpson never looked comfortable, before smashing Wheal to point.
Improbably, Hampshire, a bowler short, had battled back into the game.
At The Oval, Surrey’s blistering start to the season briefly continued as they reduced Lancashire to 67 for five, including Haseeb Hameed, caught behind flashing a drive at his second ball from Sam Curran, and the stand-in captain Liam Livingstone, the second of three wickets for Mark Footitt.
But from shortly before lunch until bad light intervened for good at 6.15, they met stoic resistance from one of cricket’s great stoic resisters, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and Jordan Clark, who brought up his maiden first-class century with his third six from his 118th ball. Indeed, Clark had just moved from 82 to 100 in five Footitt deliveries. Chanderpaul had earlier shared 55 with Ryan McLaren, then an unbeaten 172 with Clark either side of a delay for bad light, with the Guyanese ending the day 85 not out and Lancashire 294 for six. This represented some turnaround.
Yorkshire, remarkably, have lost their last three Championship matches (having lost just three of 49 before that), but they made a fine start having elected to field first at a gloomy Edgbaston, where just 48.3 overs were possible. Ben Coad took four more wickets as Warwickshire’s brittle batting fell to 77 for seven before Keith Barker and Jeetan Patel, who was eventually bowled by an Adil Rashid googly, hauled them to 152 for eight.
In Division Two, Glamorgan were once again bowled out on the opening day, this time for 207 by Worcestershire, who then recovered from losing both openers, Daryl Mitchell and Brett D’Oliveira, for ducks to reach a premature stumps 180 for four. It could have been worse for Glamorgan, who recovered from 82 for seven, largely due to David Lloyd’s 88.
The opening day of the eye-catching fixture at Hove provided some rollicking cricket, with Sussex’s Jofra Archer, the young Bajan beanpole with the beautifully fluid action, claiming seven for 67 – including four clean bowled – to dismiss Kent out for 304. Darren Stevens (68) and Wayne Parnell (51*) shared 133.
Nathan Buck’s bright start at Northamptonshire continued as he took three for 54 – including the wicket of Gary Wilson, who made 72 – as Derbyshire reached 219 for six before bad light stopped play. Meanwhile at Bristol, Will Tavare ground Gloucestershire to 236 for four against Leicestershire with an innings to make his uncle Chris proud: an unbeaten 73 from 213 balls. Will Macpherson