Essex221 for 6 (A Cook 58, Mennie 3-40) trail Lancashire 301 (Clark 79, Chanderpaul 58, Harmer 3-35, S Cook 3-65) by 80 runs


The phrase “pulling your tripe out” is disagreeably graphic. However, it suggests the level of effort expected by county supporters of overseas players who arrive on good contracts to play for teams to which they have no natural loyalty. In the second session of this game such endeavour was personified in full measure by Lancashire’s Joe Mennie, whose three wickets in 23 balls briefly dragged his side back to a position of dominance.

By the time surprisingly torrential rain ended play seven balls into the evening’s play the game was evenly balanced again with Essex on 221 for 6 in reply to Lancashire’s 301. While that was considerably worse than the visitors envisaged when they were 114 for 1 it was also rather better than they will have feared after Mennie and Graham Onions had reduced them to 130 for 5 in the first ten overs of the afternoon’s play. In other words, we may be set for a gripping two days’ cricket between teams who appear pleasingly well-matched.

Such a situation was not the case when Essex resumed after lunch and the regulars in the 1864 suite were just settling into their baklava. Ominously for the Red Rose gourmets, Alastair Cook was unbeaten on 57 and batting in the style that has broken the will of more famous bowlers than Mennie. Among his ten boundaries had been a couple of square cuts, a punch through midwicket and a clip off the hip to backward square leg. Ah yes, we remember them well

And things were worse even than that for Lancashire: the ball was no longer new; Cook and Tom Westley had already put on over a hundred runs on quite an easy-paced pitch; and Cook had been dropped on 18 when Haseeb Hameed failed to cling on to a two-handed catch above his head at first slip off the bowling of Onions. The bowler’s bellow of disappointment encapsulated the moment. “Hold fast that which is good” reads the motto of the metropolitan borough of Trafford. Many Lancastrian lunches would have been far pleasanter had Hameed obeyed the injunction.

But Mennie responded to the challenge magnificently. Having given Cook’s technique a severe examination before lunch, he caught him between a waltz and a tango with the twelfth ball of the fresh session. Neither forward nor back, Cook edged a catch to Dane Vilas and a door was ajar for the Lancashire seamers. Four overs later it was opened a little further when Mennie yorked Tom Westley for 41, and the disappearance of Essex’s prime batsmen continued when Dan Lawrence placed nothing more useful than his leg in the path of a straight ball from Onions. Next over Ravi Bopara edged a swinging delivery from Mennie to Liam Livingstone at second slip to encourage Lancashire’s hopes of taking a substantial lead.

Those hopes were dampened by Ryan ten Doeschate and Adam Wheater’s 81-run stand for the sixth wicket, only two boundaries being scored in their 22 overs’ excellent resistance. But just as Essex’s many supporters were becoming more sanguine, ten Doeschate was brilliantly run out for 43 by Vilas, who gathered the ball and threw down the stumps at the bowler’s end, the keeper’s excellence being matched by that of umpire Jeremy Lloyds, who got into a perfect position to give a decision and then twisted round to see what was happening

Five overs later the rain arrived but Lancashire supporters could go home reassured by the commitment of an overseas player whose signing may not have prompted great excitement in the county of Clive Lloyd, Wasim Akram and VVS Laxman. However, the diehards know better now, and spells such as we saw this afternoon also justified the research undertaken by Lancashire’s coaching team who considered other cricketers before reaching a decision. A few were called but Mennie was chosen.

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