Essex openers have tons of fun on first day against Kent

Sir Alastair Cook of Essex hits four runs against Kent on the opening day of the LV Insurance County Championship season

Sir Alastair Cook of Essex hits four runs against Kent on the opening day of the LV Insurance County Championship season - Credit: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo

Essex openers Sir Alastair Cook and Nick Browne battled through fierce winds to record a 220-run stand that threatened to demoralise Kent on the opening day of the LV= Insurance County Championship at Chelmsford.

It took the men of Kent exactly five and a half hours of unremitting toil and strife to finally break the stubborn partnership when Australian debutant Jackson Bird forced Browne into his only mistake in an innings that spanned 253 balls, contained 13 fours and brought him 107 runs.

Browne’s dismissal did not upset Cook’s concentration, at least in the short term, and the former England captain duly clocked up the 70th century of his distinguished career before driving loosely at Bird four balls later and edging behind for 100.

Nick Browne hits four runs for Essex against Kent on the opening day of the LV Insurance County Championship season

Nick Browne hits four runs for Essex against Kent on the opening day of the LV Insurance County Championship season - Credit: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo

However, the platform built by Cook and Browne threatened to be wasted as present England batsman Dan Lawrence departed lbw for seven, having played no shot. Essex, put in, closed on 272-4.

It was an overcoat and bobble hat sort of day for spectators and equally uncomfortable out in the middle where blustery conditions had bowlers aborting run-ups, chasing to retrieve caps blown off. A damp outfield in the morning also turned potential fours into twos.

Cook, in particular, seemed the more unsettled by the wind early on if not by the benign wicket. He was comprehensively outscored by the traditionally less adventurous Browne to the extent that when Browne reached his fifty from 109 balls shortly after lunch, Cook had only just accelerated to 34 from a similar number of deliveries.

Indeed, Cook’s contribution had been just seven runs in the first hour. However, the introduction of his former Essex team-mate Matt Quinn just after noon enabled him to more than double his score from two successive freebees down the legside.

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Browne was consistently strong when straight-driving and reached his half-century with a sweet shot through mid-off that slowed up just short of the boundary to yield two.

It is not often that Cook’s strike-rate is overshadowed significantly by his opening partner, but he faced 31 more balls than Browne to reach his fifty– and took nearly an hour longer - before he flicked Matt Milnes off his legs in familiar style. It was as if the tortoise and the hare roles had been reversed.

However, when Cook rolled his wrists to pull Daniel Bell-Drummond for four, he had moved to within one run of Browne, whose total he overhauled for the first time in the following over. It then became a race to be the first to reach three figures, a race ultimately won by the junior partner.

Before that landmark, the 200-run stand was reached when Browne abandoned normal restraint and bounced down the wicket and lofted a full-toss from rookie offspinner Tawanda Muyeye over the midwicket boundary.

He followed that by whipping Bird’s first delivery with the new-ball through the onside to record the 13th boundary of his innings and the 17th first-class century of his career.

Suddenly memories were revived of the pair’s 373-run first-wicket stand against Middlesex at the same ground five years ago. But that was stilled in Bird’s next over when Kent’s Australian recruit had Browne groping at a fullish ball.

Cook went to his hundred when he glanced Matt Milnes for a quick single. It had taken 262 balls. But Bird dismissed Cook, Quinn had Lawrence lbw shouldering arms to one that nipped back, and Nathan Gilchrist trapped nightwatchman Jamie Porter for nought.

Browne said: “It’s nice to bat for that length of time with Cookie. It’s a shame we’re still not there. But you take that when you’re doing your sprints in the winter and if someone said you’d score a hundred in your first game here you’d back that.

“The way I see my job is to protect our talented middle order and if I can do that and score some runs as well then brilliant. We managed to do that and hopefully we can pile on a few more tomorrow.

“I was a bit frustrated when I got out. It was one of my only mistakes: I pushed at the ball and it came back through the gate. It was a decent ball but I was frustrated that I didn’t go on and score a really big hundred and make it count.

“Batting with Cookie, I’m so fortunate. Every other opener to the country would be sitting there envious of me. He instils calmness and the ability to concentration and keeping switched on. We’ve got a good partnership and hopefully we can continue.”