Worcestershire 43 for 3 (Cook 3-14) trail Essex 490 for 9 dec (Westley 213, Wheater 87) by 447 runs
Graham Gooch, the eternal overlord of all he surveys at Chelmsford, was holding court on the balcony at the fine leg throughout the second day of Essex’s season opener. “You have to earn your right to score runs in April,” he observed with his connoisseur’s eye, as Tom westley clicked through his gears with the sort of poise and acceleration that can only have pleased the county’s most famous taskmaster.
If Gooch also had something to say about “daddy hundreds” as he chewed the fat with his host of fellow Essex grandees, Keith Fletcher and David Acfield among them, then he muttered those particular words while the wind was picking up and blowing in the wrong direction off the Can.
But Westley, for whom that phrase is set to take on a more literal meaning come September, needed no cajoling from the otherwise empty stands, to put a very paternal mark on his team’s first innings of the season.
By the time he’d holed out to deep midwicket in the evening session, in Essex’s half-hour surge before their inevitable declaration, Westley had racked up the small matter of 213 runs from 408 balls, in a shade under nine hours of determined accumulation. . By the time Worcestershire had limped to 43 for 3 at the close, victims of a savage late surge of three wickets in five balls from Sam Cook, his efforts seemed positively Brobdingnagian.
It was Westley’s second double-century, and his second highest score – behind the 254 he made, also against Worcestershire, in 2016 – and in his second season as county captain (after taking over from Ryan ten Doeschate after Essex’s 2019 Championship victory) he had overhauled in a single visit to the crease the 173 runs he made during his lean run in last year’s Bob Willis Trophy triumph. He’s earned his right to more than just runs in April with this performance.
Resuming on 207 for 3, with Worcestershire’s bowlers already leggy from some fairly fruitless first-day exertions, Westley was not kept waiting for his first century since September 2019. Joe Leach found a tight line to keep things honest from the Hayes Close End, but Charlie Morris – an intermittent menace on the opening day – strayed all too often on to those run-hungry legs, gifting two early flicked fours to get the juices flowing before a soft-handed deflection through the gully carried Westley to 98.
Ed Barnard entered the attack and got the slips chattering briefly when he induced a nervousy inside-edge down into the crease, but it was a brief illusion of fallibility. Another overcooked delivery in the same over was flicked out behind square leg to cue a roar from the Essex dressing room that more than compensated for the absence of acclaim in the ground’s emptier corners.
And from thereon in, Westley found a freedom to his game that he had been keeping under wraps throughout his drily responsible first-day foray. Barnard was sumptuously driven, hard through long-on, before Leach – who unleashed a cry of frustration after being picked off with soft hands through third man – was banished from the attack one over later as Westley added further boundaries through midwicket and extra cover, each with a liberated flourish.
He wasn’t the only batsman to sense an opportunity to put the hammer down. Paul Walter couldn’t quite make his intentions stick, as he was caught at second slip for 38 off Barnard, but ten Doeschate came clattering down the pavilion steps, as if he and Darren Stevens, over at Wantage Road, had made a pact to promote the cause of home county 40-somethings. His first full over, off Dillon Pennington, was rifled for 14 runs with three emphatic fours, and Pennington came in for further punishment, including a violent pull behind square, before Brett D’Oliveira’s understated legspin extracted a plumb lbw.
Essex by this stage had marched past 300, and Westley made it his business to keep them marching onwards, as Morris’ return was greeted with three more fours, the pick of them an angled drive through the covers that carried Westley on to his highest score for five years. His 150 came up with another flick off the pads, and when Daryl Mitchell entered the attack with his lesser-spotted offbreaks, Westley was waiting to pound him dismissively down the ground twice in three balls.
Adam Wheater, working the angles and chivvying the score along in a 157-run stand for the sixth wicket, was an even-paced foil as Westley closed in on his 200. Leach returned to the attack, and attempted to hide the ball outside off in a bid to force an error, but it was too late in the day for such subtleties. Twice in three overs, he was thrashed over the off side as Westley was happy to go fishing, the second of which was a clumping connection in front of square to unleash the dressing room’s vocal chords once more.
The end of the innings became a bit of a thrash, as Essex shipped four wickets in six overs, three of them caught in the deep including Wheater for 87 to cue the declaration. He was perhaps still ruing his missed century when, from the second delivery of Worcestershire’s reply, Wheater shelled a sitter behind the stumps as Mitchell fiddled outside off to Jamie Porter. The let-off seemed to have emboldened Worcestershire as they saw off the new ball with few further alarms, to hint at a peaceful conclusion to the day.
Not so fast. In the 14th over, Cook switched to the Hayes Close End to dramatic effect. His third ball jagged back wickedly to confound Mitchell on the back foot, and bowl him for 16 to a half-leave, before Tom Fell and Gareth Roderick – the latter on his Worcestershire debut – were picked off for ducks in consecutive deliveries. Simon Harmer at second slip and Westley himself at third transcended the chilly conditions to make two sharp chances look easy. Two days of the season gone, and Essex as a whole are doing likewise.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket