Essex 150 and 313 (Foster 69, Mennie 3-47) beat Lancashire 144 (Porter 5-26, Harmer 5-46) and 288 (Davies 71, Clark 59, Mennie 56, Porter 4-54) by 31 runs
Three times during this third and final day at Chelmsford, Lancashire began to seriously raise hopes of pulling off a chase for the ages. Three times Jamie Porter thundered in and found the ball to quell Essex fears. Alex Davies, Jordan Clark and Joe Mennie each scored valiant half-centuries but all three were victims of Porter’s indefatigable seam bowling, as the defending champions claimed victory in the sort of hard-fought, sun-drenched contest after which victory beer slips down like ice water.
It can’t be long before they start serving pints of Porter porter at the Spinner’s Bar. The 24-year-old collected 9 for 80 to continue the form that saw him lead the Division One wicket-taker’s list in 2017, celebrating the dismissal in particular of Davies with a throaty roar. That left Lancashire 139 for 5 and although Clark took them to within 77 of victory with three wickets still standing, Porter speared a delivery into his pads to ease the tension.
Still Lancashire kept coming, with zombie determination, as the Australia seamer Mennie clubbed his way to fifty, bringing the requirement down to 38 with the arrival of the second new ball. Eight deliveries was all it took for Porter to rattle the stumps and finally end Mennie’s resistance.
“He digs in and has a crack,” was the assessment of Porter’s team-mate, another Australian, Peter Siddle. “That’s what you want from your main fast bowler. Coming off a big year last season, needed to come out here and start well, and he was tremendous. He tries hard and deserves every wicket he gets.”
Lancashire have now lost two from two but certainly found some fibre to fortify their batting, after failing to reach 200 in three previous innings. They had been left with too much to do, stretched out of shape by the eighth-wicket stand of more than 100 between James Foster and Simon Harmer on the second evening. Keeping Harmer to just a single wicket in the fourth innings on a wearing pitch was little consolation.
Davies could have been accused of giving his wicket away in the first innings, chipping tamely to mid-off having faced 17 balls, but he was the only member of Lancashire’s top order to demonstrate the required graft second time around. There was plenty of class on display, too. Porter was thrashed for three successive fours – two pulls and a drive – and Davies also played Harmer deftly, using his feet to cut the spinner with regularity.
Lancashire had given themselves a solid platform, reaching lunch on 82 for 2 with Davies playing beautifully and the captain, Liam Livingstone, reining in his attacking instincts. Those Essex supporters sitting in the Tiptree jam stand could be forgiven for feeling a bit sticky around the collar, with the sun shining and the pitch having eased after 18 wickets fell on the opening day.
There was also a suspicion that Essex were a little light on bowling beyond the frontline three of Porter, Harmer and Siddle, with the tall left-armer Paul Walter only in the side after Sam Cook fractured a finger in training the day before the game. Walter was unused during the morning session, but he needed only three ball to break the third-wicket stand: a bouncer and a gentle half-volley pushed for two was followed up by good-length ball that drew another drive and a thick edge from Livingstone.
Walter made it two in as many overs when he won an lbw decision against Shivnarine Chanderpaul, not quite such an eternal presence at the crease these days, and the main scoreboard promptly broke down – something Chanderpaul refuses to do, although he has now collected scores of 11, 0, 8 and 1 this season.
In the dark about the score, the muttering from the home fans increased as Davies coasted to his half-century and began to open up. He had laced 38 from 30 balls faced after lunch and was looking to be the pivotal figure of the chase, only for Porter to produce a thunderbolt of a yorker that knocked Davies off his feet and sent him back for a fine 71.
Dane Vilas fell soon after, a second wicket for Siddle, who then produced a marvellous bit of fielding to leave Lancashire seven down. Having been denied an lbw appeal against Clark, Siddle hurtled across to his right and threw down the stumps with Tom Bailey a yard short having been sent back. Clark might have fallen on 19, but Varun Chopra was unable to hold a fast edge off Ravi Bopara.
The morning began with Lancashire required to make the highest score of the match – and significantly more than they had managed in three previous innings this season – in order to inflict Essex’s first defeat since September 2016. The mantra at Essex over the last two seasons is that “no one gets through the new ball” and Porter ensured that held true when he flattened Haseeb Hameed’s off stump in the third over. It was a good enough strategy come the end of the day too.