Topley troubles Gloucs attack
Reece Topley provided further proof of his blossoming talent with an impressive five-wicket haul before Essex let opponents Gloucestershire off the hook on the opening day of their LV= County Championship Division Two match at Chelmsford.
The 21-year-old left-arm seamer made use of the greenish pitch to claim his successes at a personal cost of 53 and in doing so went some way to confirming that he has overcome a stress fracture of the back.
He missed the first six Championship games of the season but, now playing his third, he has bagged 20 wickets - including 10 in the match against Glamorgan on his return to four-day cricket - after the hosts bowled Gloucestershire out for 224 before reaching 75 for no loss by stumps.
Admittedly some of his wickets against Gloucestershire owed much to indifferent batting, at least two of his victims perishing to wild slashes at deliveries wide of the off stump.
But his ability to swing the ball late posed all sorts of problems and on another day, he could have reaped greater reward as he passed the bat on several occasions as opponents pushed forward without any real conviction.
David Masters played a major supporting role as he picked up four for 67.
It also proved a rewarding day for Essex captain James Foster, who indicated just why he is considered by many as the best wicketkeeper in the country with an immaculate display which saw him take six catches.
The first of those arrived from only the third delivery of the match. Facing Masters, Will Tavare (nought) sparred at a delivery that moved late and pointed the way to the disintegration of the top order, the sixth wicket going down with only 56 runs on the board.
Topley had Chris Dent brilliantly caught by Foster for eight, diving in front of first slip, before removing Hamish Marshall who drove to Nick Browne at point. Masters then found the edge when Ian Cockbain flirted outside off stump to leave the visitors 37 for four.
Nineteen runs later, the brothers Gidman became further Topley victims. Alex, on 22 , steered the ball to Foster whilst his brother Will had scored 13 when he nudged to second slip.
Jesse Ryder's opening over cost 20 as Adam Rouse dispatched him for four boundaries, one somewhat fortuitous as the ball dissected the slip cordon. The over also contained two no-balls.
Rouse was undone by Topley with Foster's help immediately after the total moved into three figures but any hopes that Essex may have entertained of bringing the innings to a swift conclusion were halted by brothers Jack and Matt Taylor plus David Payne.
Jack Taylor scored 40 from 35 deliveries with the help of seven boundaries as he went on the offensive while younger brother Matt, 19, aided Payne in a last-wicket stand that yielded 66 in 14 overs and carried the visitors to an unexpected batting point.
Payne took a particular liking to Monty Panesar, who was thrown the ball for the first time in an effort to break the last-wicket partnership.
He dispatched the left-arm spinner over the mid-wicket boundary for six in his first over and followed up with another mighty blow, this time over long-on in Panesar's next over.
Not surprisingly Panesar was withdrawn from the attack but Matt Taylor continued to find the gaps with ease while his more adventurous partner went boldly for his strokes.
The innings was finally brought to a close when medium-pacer Graham Napier had Matt Taylor (26) caught at first slip by Ryder, leaving Payne unbeaten just two runs short of his half-century in an innings that spanned 57 balls and contained four fours in addition to his two sixes.
It was another example of Essex's faili ng to deliver the knockout blow when they had their opponents on the rack. Several times in the past, they have demolished the top order only to allow the lower order to stage an effective fightback.
Left with 19 overs to face, openers Tom Westley (46 not out) and Nick Browne (28no) composed an unbroken partnership of 75 by the close.
Essex head coach Paul Grayson said: "I was delighted with our bowling in the first session but disappointed afterwards. We allowed Gloucestershire to put on 100 for the last two wickets and that was not acceptable. "
Gloucestershire director of cricket John Bracewell believes his side could have bowled better in the closing stages.
He said: "It was a difficult start for us and a vital toss to win given the greenness of the wicket, and I think that 220-odd was a reasonable score given the position we found ourselves in.
"But we should have bowled better."