An undefeated 102 by Mark Pettini guided Essex Eagles to a winning start against Worcestershire as two rusty teams re-embraced the concept of 50-over cricket in the Royal London One-Day Cup at New Road.
Both counties had little time to prepare for a return to the format after a break of five years and it was no coincidence that Pettini and Ravi Bopara, two of those most familiar with past competitions, put the Eagles on the way to an eight-wicket victory.
They laid the foundations with a well-paced partnership of 109 in 24 overs and New Zealander Jesse Ryder gave his side a final push with four sixes in romping to a half-century from 38 balls.
Worcestershire only managed to post a total of 238 for seven thanks to an unbroken stand of 93 in the last 11 overs by Joe Leach and Shaaiq Choudhry, but this was not nearly enough to put Essex under pressure as they eased home with more than seven overs to spare.
There was a wobble at the start of the run-chase when Tom Westley was out to Mitchell McClenaghan’s fourth ball, but Bopara, preparing for an England Lions match on this ground in a fortnight’s time, quelled the threat of the left-arm paceman.
Quickly into position to attack anything short on a slow surface, he took charge of the situation until he was out for 59, playing across a ball from Leach, but Pettini’s one-day expertise continued to shine through on a comfortable afternoon for Essex.
A measured half-century was reached with only five boundaries and five more fours took him to a century from 112 balls. He reached the milestone with a nudge for three, which put Ryder on strike to win the match with his fifth six.
He was unbeaten with 68 in an unbroken stand of 127 in 16.2 overs.
Earlier Worcestershire were hi-jacked by Graham Napier, taking wickets with the first two balls of the match, and they were later tied up as Essex’s spin pair, Tim Phillips and Westley, captured 3-57 in their 19 overs.
RESULT An emphatic win for the Eagles by 8 wickets. 242- 2. Mark Pettini 102 not out, Jesse Ryder 68 not out. 7.4 overs to spare. #WorvEss
— Essex Cricket (@EssexCricket) July 27, 2014
Napier’s spectacular start saw Richard Oliver lbw to one that swung into him and Tom Fell bowled off stump as he pushed down the wrong line.
Alexei Kervezee had no problems in dealing with Napier’s hat-trick ball and the Rapids gradually got into the game with a stand of 59 until the advent of spin, with two lbw dismissals for Phillips in six balls.
Kervezee was trapped playing back to the left-arm spinner and Daryl Mitchell played across his front pad.
The middle-order batsmen hinted at a revival but every time Essex produced a killer blow. Off-spinner Westley had Tom Kohler-Cadmore stumped on the leg-side by James Foster and Napier again took two wickets in the first over of a new spell.
Ben Cox was caught at midwicket and Ross Whiteley thick edged a drive to Foster, but this time Worcestershire did have a significant response as Leach with 45 and Choudhry 44 both reached their highest scores in List-A cricket.
Steve Rhodes, Worcestershire's director of cricket, said: "We had a bad start with the bat and with five wickets down it was a struggle to get a decent total. The two lads (Leach and Choudhry) played well to get us something to bowl at.
"The pitch made a big difference. It was a lot slower when they batted whereas it nipped around early doors."
Essex coach Paul Grayson was delighted with "a very professional" performance.
"It was a good start to the competition with two wickets in the first over and after that we were very good for perhaps 25 overs," he said.
"We let it slip towards the end when they got 20 or 30 more than we would have liked, but we were very clinical with the bat."