Tom Westley underpins Essex as Lancashire face uphill battle

Lancashire 146 and 10 for 1 trail Essex 377 (Westley 81, Elgar 79) by 221 runs

Tom Westley kick-started his season with an innings that helped underpin Essex’s commanding position against Lancashire in the Vitality County Championship at Chelmsford.

The Essex captain chalked up 1,130 runs last season but had contributed just 56 in four innings this time around. However, his fluent 81 from 138 balls signalled a personal return to form and helped Essex construct a 231 first-innings lead against ailing Lancashire. By close of play Lancashire had lost captain Keaton Jennings while crawling to 10-1 in 10 evening overs as they battled to avoid an innings defeat.

In a throwback to earlier times, there was a Cook scoring runs near the top of the Essex order, though this was the unlikely figures of Sam rather than Sir Alastair. The nightwatchman hung around for nearly two and a half hours and 126 balls for a highest first-class score that marooned him one run short of a maiden fifty.

Essex had overhauled Lancashire’s first-innings total inside 36 overs for the loss of the overnight wicket of Feroze Khushi, who had laid the foundations with a half-century at a strike-rate of 160. Elgar and Cook were more circumspect, though their impact was just as demoralising for the flagging fielding side as they put on 120 in 36 overs.

Cook pulled George Balderson for one consummate boundary while Elgar also pulled Balderson to the ropes and followed next ball with an angled glide to third man for another of his 10 fours.

Lancashire did not help themselves when just after he had brought up the century partnership in 187 balls, Cook was dropped at third slip by George Bell on 44. He went to lunch on 49 and was back in the pavilion promptly afterwards, caught first ball at slip misdriving outside off-stump against Balderson.

Elgar passed 17,000 first-class career runs during his three-and-three-quarter-hour stay, but was eventually out caught behind when wafting at Will Williams on 79, his third 50-plus score in five innings for his new county.

There was no let-up with Elgar’s departure. Westley and Jordan Cox settled into a steady rhythm, Westley characteristically strong off his legs and Cox helping on its way to the boundary a Lyon ball that drifted down legside.

Their partnership was worth 57 when Cox dragged Jack Blatherwick tamely to short midwicket. Matt Critchley, centurion against Kent last week, came and went quickly, Lyon finding one to turn sharply and catch the angled bat on its way into slip’s hands.

The introduction of Luke Wells’s spin just before tea resulted in a flurry of scoring, his only over in the spell conceding 17 runs. Westley whipped a delivery through the covers to reach his fifty and then Michael Pepper twice lofted over long-on for a combined total of 10 runs.

Pepper treated Bailey and the new ball with similar distain, hooking a six to fine leg and then driving through midwicket along the ground. But he played down the wrong line to Williams in the next over and was caught in the slips for 30 from 31 balls.

Noah Thain played attractively on his first-class debut for 24 from 50 balls before being undone by one that kept low from Balderson and disturbed his middle and off stumps. Four overs later, Westley was also the victim of another low delivery from Lyon that beat his mistimed swish and hit his protruding front pad.

The innings was wrapped up in the space of eight balls when Wells trapped both Shane Snater and Simon Harmer.

Lancashire’s reply faltered when Jennings, a century-maker against Hampshire last week, went for his second single-figure score in the match, lbw misjudging a delivery from Jamie Porter. Nightwatchman Williams might have gone first ball but Harmer put down a routine chance at second slip.