Essex (298-4) v Somerset

Alastair Cook rediscovered the sort of imperious form that had eluded him this season, but fell four runs short of the 63rd first-class century of his career on the first day of the day-night match at Chelmsford, writes MARTIN SMITH.

The former England captain, on 96, looked to be attempting to reach three-figures for the first time in the Specsavers County Championship for a year with one shot. He went to whip Dom Bess through midwicket off the 165th ball he had faced, missed and was trapped lbw.

The indefatigable Bess bowled unchanged from the River End at The Cloudfm County Ground from the 20th over to the 88th, and finished the first day with figures of 35-7-74-2. Essex ended a swelteringly hot day on 298 for four from 98 overs.

Cook had appeared unflappable in taking his season’s Championship total to 409 runs at an average just over 51. He hit 15 fours, driving in the ‘v’ between mid-on and mid-off and dismissing anything short with a firm pull.

He put on 151 for the first wicket with Nick Browne – by 40 runs the largest stand for any Essex wicket in the Championship this season, and 93 better than anything by any combination of openers.

It revived memories of Essex’s inaugural day-night Championship match a year ago when Cook and Browne posted a county-record 373 stand against Middlesex, and Cook scored his last four-day century for the county.

The partnership had been together for more than 48 overs when Cook smashed Timm Groenewald firmly back at the bowler who deflected the ball on to the wicket to catch Browne out of his ground. Browne, returning for his first game since the beginning of May after breaking a finger, had hit 11 fours in his 142-ball 66.

Until that piece of fortune, Somerset’s seven-man attack had toiled in vain, with the only encouragement coming when Cook, on 57, edged Bess to slip where Lewis Gregory put him down.

Somerset had problems with the Kookaburra pink ball, which is being road-tested in this season’s Division One day-night matches. They had shown it several times to the umpires in the first session.

The ball had apparently peeled and cracked, which was a characteristic in matches played last week. It was changed at lunch and again after 59 overs.

Essex won the toss and had no hesitation in batting. Browne was keen to make up for lost time and showed his intent by pulling Gregory’s first ball for four.

Jamie Overton went for two boundaries in an over, one through midwicket and the other driven through mid-on.

Cook took three successive fours to see off Gregory’s first spell from the Hayes Close End, and followed next over by pulling Josh Davey for another to bring up Essex’s fifty in 10 overs.

Browne was first to reach a half-century, his 10th four piercing the cover field from his 71st ball. Cook wasn’t far behind, pushing a single to mid-off, from his 72nd ball. He had hit eight fours.

Browne had played uncharacteristically freely before lunch, but reverted to type afterwards, watchful and cautious, adding just nine nines from his final 44 balls.

Cook’s dismissal brought in Michael Pepper for his first-class debut on his 20th birthday. The wicketkeeper-batsman, who is on a summer contract with Essex, has scored a stack of runs in the 2nd XI this season.

He was off the mark to his sixth ball, turning Groenewald into the onside for a single.

Tom Westley had been playing comfortably for his 21 from 46 balls when he drove Gregory uppishly to short cover where Tom Abell, the Somerset captain, took a stunning diving catch.

Apart from a series of short balls early on, Pepper, too, looked untroubled in reaching 22 until he played down the wrong line and was bowled by Bess.

Bess continually asked questions of the batsman during his marathon spell. Ryan ten Doeschate, back after serving a two-match ban for disciplinary issues, found an answer when he launched the young offspinner over his head for a one-bounce boundary.

The floodlights were switched on for the final session, though they made little difference even when the lowering sun began to cast long shadows over the ground.

Bopara and ten Doeschate batted patiently and their partnership for the fifth wicket past fifty in 14 overs. It can increased to 86 at stumps with Bopara 37 from 99 balls, and ten Doeschate 46 from 92.