By Martin Smith
Essex (243-2) v Hampshire
Specsavers County Championship division one
Alastair Cook and Tom Westley both posted centuries for Essex as Hampshire endured a day of toil in the field on a rain-shortened first day of the Specsavers County Championship match at Chelmsford.
The pair put on a record 243 runs for the second wicket against Hampshire after Nick Browne departed to the fifth ball of a day shorn by 17 overs because of the weather.
Westley beat Cook to three-figures by seven balls in the late evening as both played patient, sensible innings to grind out the platform for what should be a big first-innings total after being asked to bat.
Cook had 114 at the close, which came four balls early when Westley was bowled by Kyle Abbott for 111.
For Cook, in particular, the statistics keep mounting.
He went past 800 in all cricket this summer - 300 of them in the Championship.
This was also his eighth score upwards of 50 in the two competitions contested to date, his fourth ton of the season and 19th career century for Essex.
Westley has been in and out of form this season, but has still amassed 600 runs across the Championship and Royal London Cup.
This was his second century of the season, and Hampshire will be sick of the sight of him: he had already taken 93 off their attack in the earlier white-ball game at the same ground.
Westley said: “It’s good to get that first score out of the way – that first (Championship) hundred of the season is always nice.
“It was tough going, but it’s pleasing to get some runs.
“What’s most pleasing is the position we’re in after the conditions this morning and being put in to bat. To be 243 for two is a good position for us.
“We would have wanted to bowl first, too.
“It did nip around in the first hour and a half. It’s been nipping all through the day.
“It’s a good cricketing wicket, but there is definitely a bit in it for the bowlers, but also if they miss their length you feel you score.
“I don’t think Cookie will mind me say that we both played and missed a lot and on another day you can nick them and we can be 100 for three or four.
“But sometimes you have to ride the luck and hopefully it’s your day.
“But special mention to Cookie: that was a chanceless hundred.
“They bowled well at him, so it wasn’t easy going.
“It’s great having Cookie at the other end: he just loves scoring runs.
“He’s a huge asset for the club.”
The day’s play had already been reduced from 96 overs to 92 when it finally started 45 minutes late after overnight rain.
Just three overs were possible in the morning session – for the loss of Browne’s wicket – before the rain returned and an early lunch taken.
By then the day’s allocation had been reduced to 79 overs.
Hampshire looked at the conditions at 11.15am and went for an uncontested toss and were rewarded when Browne clipped Fidel Edwards off his legs straight to Mason Crane at square leg without scoring.
Westley survived a first-ball appeal for a catch behind, but then went from strength to strength.
The ball seamed and swung around alarmingly for the batsmen in the early afternoon.
Abbott almost cut Westley in half with a late inswinger, and much later had him tucked up with one that jumped into his midriff.
Gareth Berg had Cook in some discomfort for a couple of overs, but Westley responded by hitting the South African for successive boundaries.
The first was hammered off the back-foot through the covers to bring up the fifty partnership in 19 overs.
The second fifty was quicker, taking just a further ten overs.
For a spell, runs were hard to come by on a slow outfield, and Cook had to run three for a well-timed drive through the offside that would normally have gone for four.
Westley, though, outscored his partner in mid-innings, and found the ropes with greater regularity.
Westley’s ninth four, an angled shot past third slip off Berg, brought up his fifty from 75 balls.
Cook followed him with his fifth four, a drive square on the offside off Edwards.
His fifty had taken 113 balls.
The earlier storm clouds gave way to a brighter evening, metaphorically and meteorologically, as Hampshire used seven bowlers to try and find a way of breaking the partnership, which went past 150 in the 46th over. Westley was becalmed for the first seven overs after tea before finding a gap through the covers for boundary number 13.
He went past his previous highest Championship score of the summer – the 86 not out against Somerset – with a four and two from successive balls by Liam Dawson.
Essex claimed only their third batting point of the season in the 63rd over, at the same time as the partnership past 200.
Westley was first to three-figures when he whipped Sean Ervine through the covers for his 15th boundary in 178 balls.
In the next over, Cook stroked Crane through the offside for a 222-ball century that included 12 fours Westley went to the final ball of the day, though.
He added: “That is the huge frustration that you bat all day.
“It was a decent ball, it’s been nipping around all day, it’s nipped back and I’ve got an inside edge and taken leg-stump.
“But you have to accept it, “It is a huge frustration as we’d laid such a good platform and you’d like to think with Fidel Edwards injured their seamers are going to tire.
“I had some fortune during my innings so it’s probably fair that I get an inside edge.”