The West Indians were given a thorough examination by a patchwork Essex attack on the opening day of the tourists’ two-month tour of England and Ireland.
Essex’s youthful bowlers took their collective chance and there were a number of promising cameo performances during a sometimes frustrating day that ended with the West Indians on 309 for 8.
Opener Kraigg Brathwaite weighed anchor for three hours 40 minutes before he departed on 61 just before tea to a terrific delivery from Callum Taylor.
Medium-pacer Taylor was the pick of the Essex bunch with 2 for 33 from 10 overs, even though he did not enter the fray until the 48th over as the seventh of eight bowlers used. He added Roston Chase with a yorker that took out middle and leg stumps, but only after Chase had added 119 in 23 overs for the fifth wicket with Jermaine Blackwood, and scored 81 himself.
Debutant Sam Cook, 19, who has made first-class appearances for Loughborough MCCU, shone with the new-ball in the morning and was rewarded in his fourth over when he beat the left-handed Kieran Powell with one that nipped back and bowled him.
Before his first Essex wicket, Cook had caught the outside of Brathwaite’s bat, the ball landing just short of Varun Chopra in the slips.
When Cook was rested after his initial six-over burst of nagging line, length and occasional movement, he had the impressive figures of 1 for 14. He finished the day with 1 for 49 from 20 overs.
The slightly more experienced Paul Walter dismissed both the Barbadian Hope brothers either side of lunch, both for 22. The elder sibling, the uncapped Kyle, got an inside edge and played on after a free-hitting 30-ball innings. Shai Hope went when he was late on a straight delivery and was also bowled.
All the while, Brathwaite was stonewalling and holding up an end. He needed 38 balls to reach double-figures before he broke loose briefly against Walter, cutting the bowler for four and flicking a second boundary in the over off his legs.
“Key is to play the ball as late as possible,” Brathwaite said of his knock on the opening day. “The weather tends to change a lot, it is overcast and the ball swings even more. That’s one of the keys. You need to have that mindset. That will help you get to big scores.”
The shutters went up again during the afternoon and he had added just 11 runs from 43 balls before drinks. Refreshed, Brathwaite reached his half-century the next ball, his 135th, when he pushed Matt Dixon square on the offside for a three.
Brathwaite was reprieved on 53 when Nick Browne at second slip failed to hold on to an edge above his head off Aaron Beard. Chase was also fortunate when Taylor whipped in a delivery that both bowler and wicketkeeper thought had taken the edge, but the appeal fell on deaf ears.
Brathwaite’s 155-ball marathon ended when he completely misread a delivery from Taylor, toppling forward as it thudded into his stumps.
Blackwood upped the tempo when he came in, and dented Cook’s figures with two boundaries in an over, one straight, the other square on the onside. Chase lofted Aron Nijar over long leg for six, and Blackwood followed suit to bring up the pair’s fifty partnership in just 10 overs.
Chase went to his fifty from 101 balls, followed soon after by Blackwood, who needed just 48 balls to reach the milestone. He then hit his eighth four one-bounce straight past Walter. The century stand came up in 19 overs.
Walter had Blackwood caught at mid-off from a no-ball on 58, however after Taylor had ended Chase’s 138-ball innings, Blackwood departed having added just one run after his reprieve. Ryan ten Doeschate halted the run of five successive clean-bowleds by having him lbw.
Captain Jason Holder did not last long before Matt Dixon found the edge and Chopra dived to his left at first slip then Dan Lawrence caught and bowled Devendra Bishoo off the last ball of the day.
The venue saw fans turn up in large numbers on the day. “This is probably the biggest warm-up crowd I’ve seen,” said Brathwaite. “The English love their cricket, it was good to see the big crowd. Good to see a few West Indian supporters too while batting on the field.”