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Recent Match Report – Essex vs WORCS Group 1 2021

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Essex 207 for 3 (Westley 84*, Walter 26*) v Worcestershire

What is the new normal anyway? It seemed very much like the old normal, as far as Essex were concerned. In the uncomplicated surroundings of Fortress Chelmsford – the sort of venue that rocks when it is full, but is too low-rise for the current Covid-enforced emptiness to distract from the more important matters in the middle – the Champions launched their twin title defence with a serene display on a brisk spring day.

By the time bad light brought their endeavours to a premature close (or two closes, as it happens, after a seven-ball postscript before stumps were finally pulled) Essex’s captain, Tom Westley, had located the form that eluded him during last season’s Bob Willis Trophy, reaching 84 not out from 210 balls, while their man of the moment, Dan Lawrence, had rumbled along ominously to 46 until an unlucky afternoon dismissal.

Paul Walter was unbeaten alongside his captain at the close, on 26 from 84 balls, an innings compiled at a near-identical one-run-in-three tempo to the only other wickets claimed by Worcestershire’s attack – the openers Nick Browne and Sir Alastair Cook, who had each seemed utterly entrenched until the moment that they weren’t. For it was that sort of a day.

Cook, in the final year of his contract but apparently very content to keep on batting so long as he “finds the middle of his bat not his pad“, did just that to get off the mark with a sweet cover drive – not the sort of shot he often unfurls so early in an innings, let alone a season. He then followed up with an under-edged cut and a more trademark mark clip off the pads for further boundaries, before Morris slammed him on the knee-roll to send him on his way for 15.

And so it was six of one, half-a-dozen of the other, so far as Cook’s pre-season declaration was concerned, but he’d shown enough to hint that more is yet to come. As did Browne, although in his case, his best shot of the day was also his undoing, as he attempted to repeat a pleasing drill through the covers off Ed Barnard, and scuffed a similar delivery two balls later straight to cover. Such are the errors that can occur in batting’s cruellest month.

Worcestershire’s attack toiled hard, but edges were few and far between, and the few that were found fell well short of the slips. Even plays-and-misses were limited, save for a brief spell of pressure in the overs after lunch, as Joe Leach and Charlie Morris settled into their rhythm. Had there been a crowd, the Chelmsford faithful would have been agreeably lulled by these early-season proceedings. No cause for alarm – few false alarms either – but plenty reason to believe that, had there been any, this hardened line-up would have been jolted into a fitting response.

Instead, they cruised as a collective through the motions – which included seeing off a 20-over diet of legspin from Brett D’Oliveira, which must have been a peculiar way for Lawrence in particular to be welcomed back to Championship action, after his travails against Axar Patel and R Ashwin in India this winter.

His response was a determined one. Firmly camped on the front foot to the seamers and sure-footed against the spin, he was the dominant partner in a 73-run stand with Westley for Essex’s third wicket, and unfurled a selection of strokes that backed up his hunger for further England recognition – the pick of which was a top-of-the-bounce tonk through long-on off Dillon Pennington that confirmed he is a player with power and technique in abundance.

A fifty for Lawrence seemed pre-ordained, until Barnard – the pick of Worcestershire’s attack – rapped his back pad midway through the afternoon session. To the naked eye, he appeared to have been struck outside the line, and height was an issue too, but umpire Neil Mallender’s finger wasn’t hanging around, and nor was a mildly bemused batsman.

By this stage, however, Westley was too settled into his stay to allow Worcestershire a route to the ascendancy. His highest score in 2020 had been 51, albeit he saved his best for last in the Bob Willis final at Lord’s, but he cruised past that mark with a hoisted four, high over the leg side off Barnard, then repeated the dose as Leach dropped short one over later.

“Attritional isn’t a word that has been used at Chelmsford for a couple of years but it was hard to score and I thought they bowled well,” Westley said afterwards. “For us as a batting unit, who haven’t scored as much as we would have liked to in the last few years, to be in this position on day one in the season is a good start for us.”

Westley had been warmed up well on a chilly day. His first three boundaries had all been in a familiar arc through the leg side, as Worcestershire strayed too regularly into his pads early in his stay, and from that moment he was up and running – a back-foot punch through the covers off Morris giving way to his shot of the day, a full-faced striding drive through the covers off Leach.

“One of my strengths is my leg-side game and I’ve lost my balance in the past trying to take on balls that I thought were going down leg but were straighter than that,” he added. “It was challenging for me last year, in a strange season, where I was struggling to get past 10. So I’ll take 80 not out to start my season.

“I thought Dan made batting look the easiest on that wicket,” Westley added. “I think year-on-year he is maturing as a cricketer and is working out him game very quickly. I think it is only a matter of time before he starts scoring big hundreds for Essex. He’s been successful for us for a number of years but he seems to be getting better and better which is very good for Essex cricket and England.”

With the clouds rolling in after tea and the floodlights blinking into action, Westley’s quest for a first first-class century since September 2019 had to be postponed. But all in all, county cricket’s pre-eminent red-ball outfit put together the sort of unflashy day of superiority that has underpinned their domestic dominance in recent seasons. It was as if we had never been away.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket



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England players committed to ‘improving ourselves’ in wake of Ollie Robinson row, says James Anderson

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James Anderson says that England’s players are committed to “improving ourselves as people”, as the build-up towards Thursday’s second LV= Insurance Test against New Zealand at Edgbaston continues to be overshadowed by Ollie Robinson‘s suspension for a series of historic offensive posts on Twitter.
Anderson, who will take over from Sir Alastair Cook as England’s most-capped player if selected for his 162nd Test, said that Robinson’s mid-match apology had been accepted by the team, although the issue is unlikely to die down in a hurry, following Monday’s revelation that another player involved with the team had been found to have posted racist remarks as a 16-year-old.

“It is a difficult time,” Anderson said. “As players we are trying to learn from this, and realise it’s important to try to get educated around these issues. We continue to do that with the ECB and PCA [Professional Cricketers’ Association], we’ve been doing workshops before the series to improve ourselves as people, basically. To try to make sure this doesn’t happen.”



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Vitality T20 Blast 2021 – Adam Milne joins Kent as T20 Blast replacement for Mohammad Amir

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Pakistan seamer unable to take up deal due to overlap with Pakistan Super League

Kent have signed Adam Milne, the New Zealand pace bowler, as a replacement for Mohammad Amir, whose Pakistan Super League commitments will prevent him from appearing in the Vitality Blast.
Amir had been due to play for Kent in the second half of the Blast, after the completion of the PSL – but the shifting dates for the rearranged competition, which begins on Wednesday, and quarantine restrictions for arriving in the UK from Pakistan mean he won’t be taking up his deal.

Instead, Milne will arrive for his fourth spell at Kent, having taken 38 wickets in 28 appearances between 2017 and 2019. He is expected to be available for Kent’s ninth group game, against Somerset at Canterbury on June 28, onwards.

“We’re delighted that Adam will be coming back to be a Kent Spitfire once more,” Kent’s director of cricket, Paul Downton, said. “He is a world-class T20 bowler who has made a significant difference to our side every time he has played for the Spitfires. I am sure our Members and supporters will be excited to welcome him back for the later stages of the Vitality Blast.”

Milne was part of the Kent side that reached the quarter-finals of the Vitality Blast in 2018, and narrowly missed out on reaching the knockouts a year later. He has also featured at the IPL and the Big Bash, as well as being capped 23 times in T20Is by New Zealand.

Milne said: “I love being a Spitfire and I’m really excited that the opportunity has arisen for me to come back to Kent for a fourth time. It’ll be great to see familiar faces in the dressing room but I’m also looking forward to working with the new talent that has joined since my last stint in 2019.”

Kent’s other overseas options include South African batter Heino Kuhn and the Afghanistan legspinner Qais Ahmed, who is expected to be available after quarantine from June 13, when the club face Gloucestershire at Canterbury.



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Sophia Dunkley replaces Kirstie Gordon in England Women’s central contracts list

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Solitary change to 17-person group ahead of home series against India

Sophia Dunkley, the South East Stars allrounder, has replaced Kirstie Gordon in the only change to England Women’s central contracts list for the year 2021-22.

Dunkley has played in each of England’s last five T20Is after impressing in the bio-secure bubble in Derby last summer, and has started the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy with scores of 104 not out, 0 and 92 this season. She was previously on an England rookie contract.

Gordon, who has not played for England in any format since the Ashes Test against Australia in 2019, has started the season strongly with two four-wicket hauls in three appearances for Lightning, but has been pushed down the spin pecking order by Sophie Ecclestone, Sarah Glenn and Mady Villiers.

Gordon moves to a regional domestic contract, though the shift has not been straightforward since the dates of central contracts do not currently align with regional system. As a result, the new tranche of central contracts run from May 1, 2021 to October 31, 2022, longer than the usual year.

England are due to name their squad for the one-off Test against India on Wednesday, with Dunkley among those expected to be included after her strong start to the summer, albeit in a different format.



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