Warwickshire 166 and 0 for 0 trail Essex 217 (Cook 57, ten Doeschate 56, Harmer 40*) by 51 runs
On a day when two of England’s likely lads might have hoped to make final, indisputable cases for involvement in next week’s first Test against New Zealand, it was instead a pair of old stagers who stole a march on the young bucks, as Essex inched themselves into a position of quiet advantage against Warwickshire in the LV= County Championship.
Olly Stone and Dan Lawrence are both strong bets for a starting berth at Lord’s in 11 days’ time, after being named last week in England’s 15-man squad, but on this occasion they ceded the limelight to Alastair Cook and Ryan ten Doeschate, with their combined age of 76, whose pair of fifties, allied to a responsible 40-run marshalling of the tail from Simon Harmer, secured a 51-run lead that might yet prove significant if Chelmsford’s fourth-day factor can come once again into play.
A stalemate remains the strong likelihood, however, after an Essex performance that lacked the requisite ruthlessness to really turn the screw on their visitors, and another day of weather frustration – this time centred around bad light, which caused a two-hour delay to the afternoon session, including a ludicrous moment when the players returned to resume play, only to march back off before a ball had been bowled.
Either way, the interruption seemed to affect Essex’s poise rather more than Warwickshire’s, who were perhaps grateful for a chance to regroup after a sketchy start to their day, including two dropped catches at square leg and point respectively – the latter by Dom Sibley to reprieve his England team-mate Lawrence before he had scored.
But, having gone to lunch well placed on 65 for 2 after 24 overs, with Cook cruising towards his third half-century in his last four games, and Lawrence unfurling further glimpses of the startling strokeplay that had wrecked Derbyshire on this ground last week, Essex lost four wickets in 11 overs to slump to 125 for 6, and squander the platform that had been laid.
The first to go was Lawrence, who was beaten for pace by Liam Norwell and comprehensively yorked for 14 – not the most encouraging mode of dismissal given the quality of the New Zealand attack that he may be facing next week. But Warwickshire’s true golden-arm would prove to be Will Rhodes, whose diligent seam-up picked off three scalps in his first four overs, including Cook to the second ball he faced.
Up until that moment, Cook had been playing the most authoritative innings of the match. All season long, his cover-driving has been particularly eye-catching – not always for the right reasons, given that his record-breaking Test career had essentially been built on his two most risk-free strokes, the cut and the shovel to leg.
But, there was no sense of anything other than sweet timing as Cook opened his account for the day with a brace of drives off Oliver Hannon-Dalby and Norwell, before adding a third to remind Stone that raw pace is all very well, but raw pace in the slot will be punished however burgeoning your reputation.
But wobbly seam on a full and wide line, on the other hand … Cook had only himself to blame when he opened the face for another drive as Rhodes joined the fray in the 36th over, and scuffed his effort straight to Rob Yates at gully. He slumped on his bat, frustrated at giving his wicket away cheaply after laying the groundwork, much as he had done against Derbyshire last week, but Rhodes was only just getting started.
Paul Walter came and went in a curious flurry. After using his height to get the better of a bouncer barrage from Stone – a flick for four and six over the keeper’s head forced a rapid change of approach – he was then nailed on the pad for 22 by a full-length swinger from Rhodes, who steadied himself one over later to pocket a wild top-edge from Adam Wheater, who won’t want to look back on his duck in a hurry.
At the other end, however, Tendo was doing what Tendo does, chivvying the score along with a particular eye for anything remotely wide on the off side. With Harmer steadfast alongside him, and scoreless for the first 20 balls of his innings, Essex regained the initiative. Stone served up a pair of short balls that Ten Doeschate swatted for four through fine leg and third man respectively to march to a 74-ball fifty.
By the end of the same over, the scores were level and the seventh-wicket stand had extended to 44 when Norwell extracted one swing too many to strangle ten Doeschate down the leg side for 56.
What followed was a curious game of cat-and-mouse in arguably the best batting conditions of the match. While Essex – Harmer to the fore – resolved not to do anything rash as they eked their way towards a precious batting point that may yet prove vital in a tightly permutated Group One, Warwickshire seemed content to keep the contest in check, with Tim Bresnan’s hard lines belatedly coming to the fore for figures of 10-3-8-1, rather than risk the awkward challenge of a ten-over batting stint before the close.
As it was, they were left with a solitary over to negotiate after Danny Briggs had spun his way through Sam Cook, and Stone – armed with the new ball – had unpicked Jamie Porter for his solitary scalp of a brisk but unthreatening day’s work. And it was Briggs himself who saw it off as the nightwatchman. It’s hard to see a result in this contest, but compared to most of the matches in a rain-wrecked round, the third day finished on a relative knife-edge.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket