|LV= County Championship Division One, Cloud County Ground, Chelmsford (day one)|
|Lancashire 131: Bailey 24*; Harmer 5-41 & 25-6: Snater 4-6|
|Essex 107: A Cook 40; Bailey 5-36|
|Lancashire (3 pts) lead Essex (3 pts) by 49 runs|
Essex’s Simon Harmer took five Lancashire wickets on his return from international duty as 26 fell in total on day one on a controversial pitch at Chelmsford.
The off-spinner, who had bowled just 23 overs in two months since his last appearance for Essex in late July, claimed his sixth five-wicket haul of the summer to take his tally past 50 for the fifth time in six seasons.
But while his 5-41 helped skittle Lancashire for 131, Essex struggled to capitalise in what is essentially the bronze-medal match to decide the finishing order in the County Championship.
Lancashire seamer Tom Bailey matched Harmer’s efforts by taking 5-36 as Essex were dismissed for 107. Only Alastair Cook’s resolute 40, the highest by anyone on an extraordinary day, denied Lancashire a bigger first-innings lead than the unlikely 24 they managed.
However, that was not the end of the chaos. When Lancashire batted for a second time in the evening gloom, Luke Wells was bowled first ball by Sam Cook before Shane Snater had three lbw appeals upheld in four balls to account for Keaton Jennings, Steven Croft and Dane Vilas.
When Sam Cook then had Josh Bohannon caught behind and Snater took a fourth wicket, his sixth of the day, by knocking over George Balderson’s stumps Lancashire were 7-6. By the close, after a recovery of sorts to 25-6, Lancashire’s lead was a precarious 49.
Lancashire, having won the toss, were all out first time around 45 minutes after lunch. Snater bowled Wells for 15 with his first ball but the first-wicket stand of 25 turned out to be the largest of the innings, and second largest of the game to date.
Snater also removed Lancashire’s other opener, Jennings, at the start of his fourth over when an uncontrolled inside edge ballooned into the covers. In between, Sam Cook trapped Bohannon lbw to one that kept low.
Harmer’s entrance was delayed until the 18th over and he bowled unchanged from the River End until Lancashire’s brittle resistance was ended. Croft reverse-swept him for four before he sent one skidding through to claim Vilas lbw.
Croft hung around for a time before he chanced another reverse sweep, realised his error, tried to rectify it and dabbed the ball to the diving Alastair Cook at slip.
Harmer went to lunch with a third scalp under his belt when Balderson injudiciously left the last ball before the break and was lbw.
Sam Cook bowled first-class debutant George Bell, attempting an extravagant drive, and pinned Will Williams lbw and the innings was wrapped up in the 40th over – with Bailey unbeaten on a top score of 24 – when Matt Parkinson edged to slip to give Harmer, who had also removed Tom Hartley, his 29th five-wicket return in six seasons for Essex.
Essex’s reply followed a similar pattern. Nick Browne went third ball when he tried to whip Bailey through the on side and was lbw. Next over Tom Westley was bowled shouldering arms to Williams before Bailey had Dan Lawrence lbw playing all around the ball.
The procession continued as Balderson removed Matt Critchley with his fifth ball, Hartley taking the catch at third slip.
Feroze Khushi put on 30 with Alastair Cook and batted brightly for 17 before dragging the first ball after tea from Parkinson on to his stumps, and Adam Rossington fished recklessly outside off-stump and kept walking.
Alastair Cook had watched the wickets tumble but after holding up his end for 98 balls he was seventh out, pinned plumb on his back foot by Bailey.
Essex’s innings finished seven overs later as Snater, Harmer and Jamie Porter departed in quick succession but it was not the end of a bizarre day as Lancashire collapsed once more.
Essex spinner Simon Harmer:
“For 26 wickets to fall in a day is unprecedented, but I think if you look back at some of the dismissals a lot of them were batter-error. So it wasn’t all down to the wicket.
“Sometimes bowling first at Chelmsford is a blessing in disguise, especially if the wicket flattens out on days three and four. It has been an extremely dry summer and the wickets are quite slow. But it’s been an eventful day and there’s still a lot to do tomorrow.
Lancashire coach Glenn Chappell:
“The lads are in really good form, having really good seasons, trying their best and desperate to try and win a game. They’ve just found the pitch unplayable.
“I think for the first three-quarters of the game there was a ball with your name on it, that was a given, but for the last 30 minutes it was completely ridiculous.
“Is it an acceptable pitch for first-class cricket? Absolutely not, no way, shape or form. We’re here for four days to play a game of cricket and that’s not good enough.
“We don’t want our supporters to think we’ve thrown the towel in, we absolutely haven’t. We want our supporters to know we’re trying to the very end. Days like this are really annoying, simple as that.”
Report supplied by the ECB Reporters’ Network.