England 328-7 (Swann 62no) v
LV= Challenge match, Chelmsford, day one
There was room for a touch of nostalgia on day one at Chelmsford as England’s Ashes defence got underway with a warm-up match against Essex. In years gone by the sight of a leg-spinner tormenting the English batsmen was nothing unusual as Shane Warne mesmerised them with his variations.
Today it was the turn of the little-known Tom Craddock to cause their middle-order a headache. He took the key wickets of Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Matt Prior before Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann spared England’s blushed with half-centuries as the bowlers tired.
The day began with stand-in Essex captain Ravi Bopara winning the toss and electing to bowl - a decision that had more than whiff of doing England’s bidding about it on a hot and sunny day at the County Ground.
The home side rested James Foster, Reece Topley and Graham Napier from their first-choice side, with Sajid Mahmood, Craddock and Tymal Mills making up a potent, albeit almost second-string, bowling attack and Ben Foakes behind the stumps. England, meanwhile, chose to rest James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who has a slight shoulder niggle, with Steven Finn and Graham Onions their replacements.
The story of the day for England’s top-order was one of squandered starts as all of their top seven reached double figures but were unable to better Pietersen’s audacious 49. Alastair Cook was first to fall after adding 33 with his new opening partner Joe Root. Root was then struck a painful blow on the knee and was out soon after to the inconsistent Sajid Mahmood for a skittish 41.
The afternoon then belonged to Craddock. He and captain Bopara bravely kept the field up to Pietersen and were rewarded when he tried to loft the leg-spinner over his head only for the ball to hit the bottom of the bat and present Craddock with a sharp return catch.
Pietersen had, until that point, looked immovable as he feasted on a succession of full tosses from Sajid Mahmood to continue the form that saw him hit 177 for Surrey in his last Championship match.
The wickets of Bell and Prior were just as earned as the big one of Pietersen. The former was caught by Jaik Mickleburgh at short-leg - a piece of fielding that had the pundits scrambling for the law books.
Both the laws and the playing conditions for first-class cricket explicitly forbid the fielder to move between the point when the bowler releases the ball and the batsman completes the shot, but that didn’t prevent Mickleburgh from moving from forward short-leg to behind square as Bell got down to play the dab sweep.
He plucked the catch one-handed from the air to end Bell’s scratchy knock at 13. Third umpire Richard Illingworth later confirmed that the umpires effectively ignore this law in top-flight cricket to reward the excellence of fielders such as Mickleburgh.
Nonetheless, it is a grey area that the MCC and ICC could do with clearing up, especially as the growth of 20-over cricket makes anticipating what shot the batsmen is likely to play ever more relevant.
Prior then got one of the balls of the season to account for him. Craddock got the ball to drift in before pitching on middle-stump and spinning sharply away to graze the edge of his bat on its way through to Foakes.
Sajid Mahmood then found some devilish reverse swing to make Jonny Bairstow look foolish for leaving a ball that curved in to hit his off-stump in the manner of Michael Clarke’s dismissal to Simon Jones in the 2005 Ashes series.
That made it 212 for seven and embarrassment beckoned for England. However, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann overcame their early difficulties against Craddock and made the most of the looser deliveries that he provided as he began to tire. Tymal Mills continued to bowl with pace but was fractionally too short on a pitch that is on the slow side as well as being pretty flat and bone dry, while David Masters and the back-up bowlers didn’t prove too threatening.
Swann, as is to be expected, was the aggressor in the unbroken eighth-wicket partnership of 116 that he shared with Bresnan and ended not out on 62 off 87 balls. Bresnan is on 55 off 132.
© Cricket World 2013