ENGLAND sacrificed first-class cricket in a pragmatic attempt to rescue a competitive contest on day three of their Ashes warm-up match against Essex.
Injuries to two frontline bowlers, and then a part-timer, at Essex’s initial disposal left England captain Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott batting against just one specialist seamer by mid-afternoon at Chelmsford.
The response, at the behest of England coach Andy Flower and with the agreement of all parties, was to allow Boyd Rankin, who was in the England squad but not playing, and Reece Topley to bolster Essex’s impossibly depleted attack in pursuit of worthwhile preparation for his team to face Australia at Trent Bridge in next week’s first Test.
The consequent loss of this fixture’s first-class status was harsh on Essex leg-spinner Tom Craddock and England’s Tim Bresnan – whose career-best bowling and first hundred in six years will no longer count in the records.
But after David Masters, Tymal Mills and then Tom Westley succumbed to respective Achilles, hamstring and hand injuries – despite the grumbles of some paying customers about the turn of events – it was hard to sustain an argument that England and Essex had not simply come up with a sensible trade-off in unfortunate circumstances.
Certainly, it was an unedifying spectacle from which few could derive much benefit, while Cook (82) and Trott (79) were operating in an embarrassing comfort zone as Ravi Bopara ran out of feasible options.
Instead, once he introduced Topley, rested by Essex for this match, and Rankin, Cook and Trott at least had a little more to think about before each retiring out at tea on the way to a second-innings stumps total of 217 for three.
As well as the decimation of Essex’s bowling resources, they also had to use three substitute fielders – including two schoolboys – before the reinforcements were given the go-ahead to become Bopara’s seventh and eighth bowlers.
But there was a reassuring sight for England yesterday morning when Graeme Swann was able to field and bowl, after x-rays revealed no fracture to his right arm. Trott said: “If it hadn’t been done [the match stripped of first class status], you’d probably be asking me ‘Is it the right preparation, having only one frontline bowler available to come at you before a first Ashes Test match?’
“It’s a lose-lose situation probably. But I thought the right thing has been done. For the game of cricket and our preparation for the first Test, I think it was pretty much spot on.”
Meanwhile, Shane Watson cracked a powerful century against Worcestershire yesterday to suggest he is in prime form back in his favoured position as opening batsman.
Watson was utilised in the middle-order by the recently-sacked Mickey Arthur, who favoured Ed Cowan and David Warner at the head, but new coach Darren Lehmann made it a priority to restore the 32-year-old to his favoured position of opener.
Lehmann announced on the eve of the New Road encounter that Watson and Chris Rogers would open in the first Test against England and they repaid his faith with a first-wicket stand of 170 in a stumps score of 340 for four. Watson was the dominant partner, hitting 109 in 111 balls including 14 fours and two sixes, while Rogers contributed a steady 75.