Essex went run-crazy on Wednesday as Nick Browne scored 221, Alastair Cook 193 and Varun Chopra smashed a 74-ball century. Here are the Division One reports...
ESSEX v MIDDLESEX
Alastair Cook and Nick Browne rewrote a plethora of records in a first-wicket stand of 373 that thoroughly demoralised reigning champions Middlesex on the third day at Chelmsford.
Cook contributed 193, Browne 221, before Essex declared on 542/3, setting Middlesex 296 just to make the Division One leaders bat again. Openers Nick Gubbins and Nick Compton survived a torrid 13 overs under the floodlights against Mohammad Amir and Jamie Porter, but Middlesex need to bat resolutely throughout the final day to avoid a second defeat in three games.
It was Cook’s third century of the season, and was just two runs short of his highest score in a Championship career that began 14 years ago. Cook now heads off on England duty ahead of the first Test against South Africa at Lord’s next Thursday. He goes with 667 first-class runs to his name at an average of 66.70.
Cook's partner Browne said: “It is lovely to do that with Cookie. It’s an amazing honour to play with him, let alone have a partnership with him like that.
“He helped me through a lot, and I’d like to think I helped him a little bit as well. It was absolutely outstanding to bat with him for such a long time."
Meanwhile, the last three times Browne has gone past three-figures he has more than doubled his tally. This was his first century of a season that started slowly, but which is now moving into overdrive.
The partnership was finally ended after six-and-a-half hours, just before tea, when Cook pushed forward to Ollie Rayner and was snaffled by Stevie Eskinazi at slip. Cook had faced 280 balls and hit 26 fours.
And as daylight turned to twilight Varun Chopra set up Essex’s declaration with a big-hitting 100 not out from 75 balls, which included six sixes, all off Rayner.
At various points on a cold, grey day, the pair ticked off records before eclipsing the all-time best for an Essex opening stand: the 316 set by Graham Gooch and Paul Prichard against Kent on the same ground in 1994.
Cook, who was dropped on 48 on Monday evening, survived another scare even before play started when James Foster parried the ball into his face during catching practice. The England opener fell to his knees, and stayed there for several minutes while medical staff checked his jaw. However, he was back in the middle 35 minutes later to resume his innings as if nothing had happened.
Cook glided Ryan Higgins to fine leg for the single that took him to three-figures. His century, which included 17 fours, took him 134 balls. That was 16 balls less than Browne required for his half-century, and told the story of the partnership.
When they passed 209, they broke the record Essex first-wicket stand against Middlesex, beating the previous best set by Frederick Fane and Johnny Douglas at Leyton in 1906.
At 233, they had passed the record of Percy Perrin and Charlie McGahey for any wicket against Middlesex, set in 1905 at Lord’s.
Later, at 372, they beat the total for any wicket in an Essex versus Middlesex encounter, which stood to Mike Gatting and Justin Langer at Southgate in 1998.
Browne, who went to the first interval on 97, followed Cook to his ton when he pulled Paul Stirling through deep extra cover for four. It was his 13th boundary and came from 240 balls.
A two to midwicket by Browne off Higgins took the pair beyond 316, which earned a round of applause from a knowledgeable and appreciative crowd.
The carnage continued and Browne swept Ollie Rayner for his 18th boundary to reach his 150 from 323 balls. With Cook gone, the otherwise circumspect Browne allowed himself the luxury of chipping Dawid Malan over the bowler’s head for six to enter the 190s. A push into the onside brought up Browne’s double-hundred from 368 balls.
Chopra, the substitute replacing the England Lions-bound Tom Westley, followed suit with a six off Rayner over cow corner. Nick Compton might have ended his rampage on 39, but he dropped a diving chance on the midwicket boundary.
Chopra’s fifty arrived with an identical six off Rayner and had taken just 51 balls. He was not finished there.
Browne’s seven-hour 32-minute marathon ended when he hit Rayner into the covers and was caught by Malan. Rayner bore the brunt of Chopra’s onslaught and finished with two for 152 from 29 overs.
The departure of Browne precipitated something of a collapse as Dan Lawrence lasted just five balls before moving away from his stumps to give himself room and being bowled by Higgins.
HAMPSHIRE v SOMERSET
Ian Holland manufactured a Somerset batting collapse as Hampshire gained an upper hand on Day Three of their Division One Specsavers County Championship clash at the Ageas Bowl.
The Australian all-rounder took four for eight in just four overs to leave the visitors reeling. Hampshire had been frustrated firstly by a completely washed out first session and when played did start at 5.20pm, Eddie Byrom and Adam Hose piled on the runs.
The pair looked at ease, while everyone else from either side had seemed to struggle with the soft pink ball. The second wicket saw 77 runs, the second highest partnership of the match, as debutant Byrom reached an unfussy 43 before Holland entered the attack.
The Zimbabwean opener struggled to adjust to the slower pace and tamely chipped a dolly catch to George Bailey at mid-off. The wicket sparked a flurry of departures, as Holland struck again in his second over as James Hildreth was hit on the pads.
After a wicket-less over, Holland was at it again as he had Somerset captain Tom Abell caught behind before repeating the trick to see off Steven Davies two balls later.
Holland could not be kept out of the action when the ball was taken out of his hands, as Lewis Gregory slipped while taking off for a quick single, before Holland at backward point threw to Lewis McManus, who ran the batsman out.
Gareth Berg was surprisingly brought into the attack to replace Holland, who completed the session with figures of four for 16, his best first-class figures.
But the shock of seeing the in-form bowler out the attack was lessened when the South African had Hose – who had kept his head down to reach 48 – leg before to his first delivery of the new spell.
Craig Overton was the final wicket to fall before the interval as he clipped Berg to Jimmy Adams at mid-wicket. Somerset had fallen from 102 for one to 135 for eight in 14 spectacular overs but rain during the supper interval made sure the players failed to return to the field again.
Hampshire all-rounder Holland said: “It was a funny session of cricket. The batters had the momentum early and got the partnership and then we seemed to get a lot of wickets in a hurry. It puts us in a good position going into tomorrow with 96-odd overs left in the game.”
On his reality TV history, Holland added: “It was a few years ago now. Cricket Superstar was the name of it. I went in with no expectations but came out with a good opportunity – I got a rookie contract with Victoria.
“It was a good chance to fast track myself and get my foot in the door. At the end of the day Allan Border was a judge so that was the credibility that was good enough for me. I knew he wouldn’t be running something that wouldn’t be a good opportunity.”
WARWICKSHIRE v LANCASHIRE
An intriguing, if slow-burning, tussle between Warwickshire and Lancashire will head into the final day at Edgbaston with all results still possible.
In search of a third successive championship victory, Lancashire closed the third day on 178/4, 130 ahead.
On a slowish pitch with pink balls which, the participants report, have gone very soft after about 30 overs, any target around 250 would be a tough ask for a Warwickshire side which has suffered more than its share of batting collapses this season.
With runs coming throughout the match at an average of fewer than three per over, a slow-burning plot it has certainly been - with a historic dimension. During the home side's first-innings 321 (earning them a lead of 48), Andy Umeed lodged the slowest century in Championship history. On his way to 113 (392 balls, seven fours), the 21-year-old reached his ton in 429 minutes - nine more than the previous slowest, by Northamptonshire's Billy Denton against Derbyshire in 1914.
Umeed frustrated Lancashire for more than a day but Steven Croft's side will still fancy their chances of putting Warwickshire under pressure on the final day after Alex Davies' forceful 79 (129 balls, 12 fours) increased the Red Rose momentum.
After Warwickshire resumed on the third morning on 259 for seven, Umeed and Jeetan Patel (50, 86 balls, six fours) took their partnership to exactly 100 before falling in quick succession to Stephen Parry. The spinner's first ball of the day had Patel stumped and then he drifted a lovely delivery inside Umeed's defence to win an lbw decision.
Last-wicket pair George Panayi and Boyd Rankin supplied a bit of tail-wagging, hitting seven fours in a stand of 36 which ended when Jordan Clark uprooted Panayi's off-stump to end with four for 81.
Lancashire sent in Jos Buttler to open in the second innings but he lifted his sixth ball, from Keith Barker, to mid-wicket.
But Davies added 53 in 24 overs with Haseeb Hameed and, after Hameed fell lbw to Rikki Clarke, 80 in 23 overs with Croft and those stands evened the match right up.
Rankin removed Davies and Croft, caught at mid-on and mid-wicket respectively, but Lancashire ended the day with Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dane Vilas still at the crease and plenty of power to add on the final morning.
Warwickshire all-rounder Clarke said: "We'll be in a strong position if we can take a couple of early wickets tomorrow. The pink ball has gone a little bit soft but sometimes a red ball does that. As bowlers you've just got toil away and try different things to try and get the breakthrough.
"The way Andy Umeed applied himself was brilliant for such a young guy and with someone like Jimmy Anderson coming in at you that's quite a challenge for anyone."