Somerset 99 for 1 trail Essex 505 for 9 dec (Browne 234*, Walter 86) by 406 runs
There is a confidence about Harmer, a spin bowler devising sequences to befuddle his opponent. There was little sense of that from Leach, England’s premier spinner, good enough to have played 26 Tests, but often in a holding role. Not helped by bowling in the first innings of the match, he largely plugged a defensive line and rarely hunted out the rough to the left-hander outside off stump even though Browne was his major adversary. Browne took him for only three off-side boundaries and ticked over now and then with a leg-side single.
In Matt Renshaw, he found a stoutly supportive teammate. “I know he went for none for a hundred but to bowl 39 overs into the wind to the short side was a testament to him and his skills, he said. “I was pleased how he bowled even if he didn’t get the wickets people might say he needed to.”
Out on the boundary, if some Twitter jousting between a group of Essex supporters and Craig Overton was to be believed, Overton had identified this Chelmsford surface as “a Harmer pitch” on the opening day. In essence, it is, although it lacks pace and bounce, and Renshaw and Tom Abell appeared to put things into perspective, both countering Harmer calmly enough, and picking off the seamers. Then from nowhere, just before the close, a ball flew spitefully past Renshaw’s outside edge. They negotiated the second day, gratefully, at 99 for 1.
Just the thought of what might be to come had been enough to put Overton in mildly acerbic mood when he bit back at his Twitter taunters: “You forgot I was moaning about the fact [we] were changing in a marquee, have no showers and also portaloos for toilets at a first-class ground”.
Chelmsford has always been a cramped, if characterful, ground comprised in part by curious wooden huts, fulfilling a variety of purposes, although now quite a few of them appear to be closed. Add the racism allegations that will bedevil the county until the results of their independent enquiry are published – that enquiry began last November and should be published before the year is up – and John Stephenson, the chief executive, has quite a task ahead in charting a way forward. Some of the loudest criticism has come from Javid Ahmed, who played seven first-class matches between 2005, and whose allegations involve a tiresomely predictable collection of taunts, and the conclusion that Essex felt like: “a white man’s world where brown people were outsiders”.
As Browne batted staunchly on, adding another 107 to his overnight 127, a marquee rung to speeches and laughter to mark a 75th birthday celebration for David Acfield, a former Essex offspinner, chairman and president, and one of five Board members who were forced to resign in May during the racism affair. Acfield, apparently, will still have a committee room named after him.
His birthday was marked by many of his fellow Essex players from the most successful, and entertaining, period in their history. As they exchanged old stories for the umpteenth time, Browne provided a constant backdrop. Their day was three-day cricket, played adventurously, but fortunately the red wine did not flow so freely that they appeared on the boundary edge demanding that he hit out for a quick declaration.
Browne is powerfully built, but he has been primarily used over his career as a Championship specialist. He has his own speed limiter built in, set just below 50 runs per 100 balls. On the rare occasions he did try to go big, a couple of thick edges persuaded him to banish the thought from his presence. But the nearest he looked to losing his wicket was on 205 when Harmer played the ball in front of square and hurried him through for a tight single. He did accelerate, but only marginally – his bedding-in 50 took 124 balls, followed by 104, 95, then 94 – but his tenacity never wavered.
“You get so many low scores as an opening bat that when you do get in you have to be greedy and make sure you cash in,” he said. “I think staying in the same gear is key to it. You go through little periods of a bit more aggression or if you lose wickets at the other end you have to get back in your bubble a bit more.”
Tom Lammonby found some value in the day with a career-best 3 for 35 (he had only previously taken six first-class wickets), the best of them the removal of Paul Walter’s off stump when he snealed one back slightly through the gate. Matt Critchley fell trying to run a wide one and Adam Rossington, who played with gusto for his 32, slog-swept him to deep midwicket.
The innings then came to a halt as Browne and Harmer ground on, Harmer having seven from 49 balls at one point. In the marquee, some famous old players might have been a little impatient. But Harmer was probably just timing the declaration for his own needs, awaiting signs that the ball was ready to turn. Leach will hope that Somerset bat well enough to give him another opportunity on a wearing pitch, but he will be lucky.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps