Cook and Critchley score centuries on day one
Sir Alastair Cook struck his 74th first-class century as Essex took advantage of perfect batting conditions in their LV=Insurance County Championship clash with Somerset.
England legend Cook had been dismissed for 99 for the first time in his career against Nottinghamshire, in his last innings before the first batch of Vitality Blast fixtures.
But he made no mistake by converting to three figures in 210 balls before reaching 128, as Essex racked up 360 for four on the opening day – with Matt Critchley providing entertainment in a sublime 119 during and after a 153-run stand with Cook.
On a grueling day for Somerset’s bowlers, England quick Craig Overton was forced off the field in his 15th over after appearing to injure his left foot while bowling, although he did return and bowled a further three overs.
Tom Westley couldn’t have been happier to win a toss with hot temperatures and a dry flat wicket on offer; batting was the only option, especially with the sweatless Cook ready to bed in.
Matt Henry and Overton found some early play and misses in a testing start to the day, which saw Nick Browne put down at second slip on four.
But things settled down and Browne and Cook put on their highest opening stand of the season – 66 – before the former tamely chipped to mid-off.
Somerset handed off-spinner Shoaib Bashir a first-class debut, having recently made his T20 bow and received a two-year contract.
The 19-year-old played age-group cricket for Surrey, Middlesex, and Berkshire before impressing Somerset while on trial last summer.
He started out of Championship career with a maiden to Cook, which included two deliveries that produced significant turn and Cook would only score 20 runs off him all day.
Bashir would bowl 29 tidy overs from the River End, and despite going wicketless made scoring hard in his nought for 89.
Westley is Division One’s leading run scorer and took his season tally past 600 runs as he scored 37 in a 77-run partnership with Cook.
He departed to a snorter from Overton which caught the outside edge of Westley’s leaving bat to edge behind. Paul Walter put on 52 with Cook before he was bowled by Kasey Aldridge.
Throughout the day Cook was his classic self. Short on his pads, flicked off them. Short outside off, bat opened up and angled to a gap. Overpitched, push through the covers. Anything that worried him, defended or left alone.
Fifty came and went in a workman-like 97 balls and just a drop at square leg when on 56 suggested he was fallible.
He got stuck on 94 for 26 balls, and around an hour, either side of tea but reached three figures in 201 balls with a very fine clip to the boundary.
While Cook was regimented and steadfast, Critchley largely refused to budge from his aggressive style; if the ball was there to hit, he smashed it. The all-rounder’s fifth half-century of the season coming in 45 balls as he scored 78 of the first 100 runs of his fourth-wicket partnership with Cook.
Critchley had begun the season with three fifties but hadn’t exceeded 20 in his last five innings, on this occasion he converted his second ton – in 116 balls – for Essex since arriving at the beginning of last season.
Cook fell lbw to Josh Davey with five overs left in the day to give the visitors some rare cheer at the Cloud County Ground, Chelmsford.
Essex all-rounder Matt Critchley:
“It was a very good day. It was set up by Chef [Alastair Cook] and the boys at the top and then we scored fairly quickly which is a good day coming back from the white-ball stuff.
“We are setting up this game to bat first and bat big and then bowl them out twice. We have the best spinner in the country. It spun a little bit today and hopefully it turns more as we go on.
“It was good fun batting with Chef, he obviously batted well. It was funny at one point after tea I had scored 40 runs and he hadn’t got any. It was nice to get that over on him.
“He followed on from his 99 last time out and it was so nice to see someone who has got so many hundred so happy to score one.
“He looked relieved and happy to get there. He still loves it and still churns them out. It is unbelievable how good he is, how professional he is and how much he still wants to do well.
“I’ve been here a couple of years now but to grow up watching him and now to play with him is still amazing.”
Somerset spinner Shoaib Bashir:
“It has was quite a special feeling to be bowling to Alastair Cook in my first over.
“His record is unbelievable. To be bowling at him, and the patience he showed…it’s something else. I’m very privileged to be bowling at him.
“I got a bit of turn as it was still a newish ball but as the day went on I didn’t get a lot of turn.
“There is a bit in the pitch. There’s a lot of spin that I get with the newer ball. With the seamers, there is enough in that wicket. I think tomorrow will be a very interesting day to see when Essex go out and bowl and see how they go about it.
“I started off at Surrey when I was nine. I went through the age groups and go released when I was 17. Then I made a move to Middlesex and for Berkshire as well. I played against the Somerset under 18s, got some wickets and then got called up from the Somerset 2s. It has been a mad journey.
“I’ve always dreamed about being a professional cricketer. It means the world. I’m going to keep working hard, keep grinding and hopefully maintain this level. Still a lot to work on.
“I’ve got mentors in Roelof [van der Merwe] and [Jack] Leachy which is absolutely unreal. Learning and new experiences is what it’s about.”