Essex draw positives from tame opener against Kent
Dan Lawrence, having established himself with the bat in the England middle-order, made a case to be taken seriously as a bowler with career-best figures as Essex and Kent played out the tamest of draws at Chelmsford.
Not only did the occasional off-spinner record figures of 3-98, but Lawrence’s 24-and-a-half-over stint was more than double anything he had ever been asked to produce in an innings.
At the other end, Matt Critchley plugged away for a marathon spell of 46 overs, taking 4-114 on his Essex debut.
Even Sir Alastair Cook turned his arm over as Kent batted on and on for 187 overs in their first innings to eventually eclipse Essex’s total of 514 on the flattest of flat wickets.
It was not until the cusp of tea on the fourth day that Kent lost their ninth and final wicket – Joe Denly being unable to bat because of a hamstring injury – to finish 67 runs in front.
The captains shook hands at 4.50 pm with Essex 68-1 after a game of 1,163 runs, five individual centuries, but only 20 wickets.
Earlier, Jordan Cox had finally departed for 129 at the end of a seven-hour vigil, while Matt Milnes and Jackson Bird became the eighth and ninth players to pass fifty in the match.
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The tone for the day was set from the start when Essex’s Australian debutant Mark Steketee, who had leaked 96 runs from his first 25 overs in English cricket, bowled a four-over opening burst of more accurate line and length without conceding any further runs.
Essex rotated the bowling to little effect, though with Critchley and Lawrence rattling through the overs in tandem, they took advantage to work on their over-rate, avoiding any possible sanction by reducing it from minus two at the beginning of the day to plus two by the end.
Cox had batted brightly in the early stages of his innings but shrank into his shell as Kent’s batting adopted a no-risk policy. He had added just 29 runs to his overnight score in more than two hours when he popped up a dolly to short mid-on off Lawrence.
Ironically, given Lawrence bowling’s style, the wicket came soon after Essex had taken the second new ball.
Critchley added his third wicket when Nathan Gilchrist chose to leave a ball rather theatrically and was suitably embarrassed to turn and see his off stump pinned back.
Milnes, having reached his half-century, launched a six over Critchley’s head, but two balls later he had a rush of blood and picked out substitute Luc Benkenstein on the midwicket boundary.
Bird recorded the fastest fifty of the match having faced just 45 balls when he hit a second six back over Critchley’s head.
He had had a reprieve of sorts just before when Cook senior’s first ball induced a thick edge that would have been meat and drink to third slip if his captain had given him one.
Essex batted for 22 overs in their second innings for the loss of Nick Browne, one of the first-innings centurions, who edged Gilchrist to a diving slip for nine.
Essex captain Tom Westley said: “It’s not been the normal Chelmsford wicket although we had a similar wicket this time last year against Worcestershire. It’s a bit out of our control.
“It was pretty dead and the game was killed after day two with the amount of runs scored. But to start the campaign with 12 points is positive and the way the bowlers went and kept going – and obviously three centurions – is all positive.
“I think we have got all bases covered. I think this is one of the strongest squads that I have been a part of and when Harmy (Simon Harmer) joins us, we’ve got who I think the best spinner in the world, and a world-class performer. So that is only going to make us even stronger.”
On Lawrence’s three-wicket haul, Westley added: “If you speak to him he’ll tell you he’s an international all-rounder now with a Test bowling average of about 30. It’s something he’s worked really hard on and he’s got attributes as a spinner.
"We’ve obviously been blessed with Harmy for a number of years, so the likes of Dan probably hasn’t got to bowl as much as he likes but he could be a very good offspinner. He’s picked up a three-fer today, but there are times he’s bowled a lot better than that and not got the wickets. I think if he keeps working at it, which he wants to, then there’s no reason why he can’t get as many first-class wickets as he’d like.
“He wants to bowl, which is so good. He wants to be a part of the game in every facet of the game in the field. He’s actually one who comes up to me, ‘Can I bowl, let me on, get me on, get spin on’. Tendo had it with him, too, and so I’m sure does Joe Root! But they are the sort of people you want in your team, you want people to put their hand up.”