Essex 147 for 3 (Bopara 50*) lead Hampshire 118 (Harmer 5-23) by 29 runs
India vs Pakistan in the World Cup in front of a capacity crowd at Old Trafford. One cricket writer exulted that he felt at the centre of the sporting world. Ajinkya Rahane often imagined he would share in the most overwrought occasion that cricket can deliver. Instead, he was making do in a County Championship match at Chelmsford.
It would have taken a world record to provide much consolation for Rahane because there is nothing more certain to fire the imagination of an India cricketer than a match-up with Pakistan. Instead, a second-ball duck afforded no release and by the time he entered the Hampshire dressing room he was probably wondering how he could catch up with India's innings without it appearing that his priorities lay elsewhere. He was 225 miles away from Old Trafford; it must have felt like a million.
Rahane survived the first ball from Jamie Porter in routine fashion, defending a rising ball into his body. An over to reflect at the non-striker's end and he faced Porter again. A full ball was eminently driveable - not to have driven it in a World Cup tie would have sent India's selectors into emergency session - but he pushed forward warily and Adam Wheater, back behind the stumps after injury, took the catch. He was part of Hampshire's slump to 8 for 3 in the first 5.3 overs, a position from which they never recovered.
His #SaturdayThoughts on Twitter had told his 5.41m followers "for positivity in life, you need to have a positive mind!" It wasn't sure if the message was to himself or to India, but if it was to himself it didn't work out too well. For his Sunday thought, he played safe and stuck to #Father's Day and didn't even chide his Dad for not perfecting his off drive.
The last of Rahane's 96 ODIs was against South Africa in Centurion 16 months ago. He averaged 35 over five matches but his strike rate was only 76.92, a touch below his career average. Even England in the bad old days scored faster than that. There were no vacancies at the top of the order and India wanted more destructiveness in the middle. He was dropped, but even in February he was striving for optimism, saying that "playing the World Cup is a dream that every cricketer cherishes".
Rahane made a century on debut for Hampshire against Nottinghamshire, replacing Aiden Markram, but as he enters his fourth Championship match the sense is of a waning Hampshire title challenge. They lie 26 points behind Somerset, but England's summoning of James Vince and Liam Dawson for the World Cup squad (both as yet unused) will test their resources.
On the opening day against Essex they were feeble. They already trail and were blown aside for 118 in 34 overs on a Chelmsford pitch that offered hope to the new-ball attack and to the offspinner Simon Harmer, who finds purchase on most surfaces, and who collected 5 for 23 in 11 overs with embarrassing ease. He now has 35 Championship wickets at 19.4, the most in the Division alongside Warwickshire's Jeetan Patel and Somerset's Lewis Gregory. Essex had rested Peter Siddle because of a few niggles and his replacement, Aaron Beard, never got a go.
All five of Harmer's wickets came after lunch in an hour and a quarter of growing resignation. Short leg was set from the outset and was soon joined by a second. Three were lbw to balls that turned - Keith Barker, the left-hander, could regard his decision as a marginal - another left-hander, Rilee Rossouw, was stumped having a swipe and James Fuller was caught at short leg.
It is questionable whether they should even have been batting. Hampshire had opted for a toss and chosen to bat first, in defiance of a showery morning. By doing so, they avoided facing Harmer in the fourth innings, but the first innings turned out to be disastrous enough. Adi Birrell, Hampshire's coach, insisted: "The stats were the reason we batted first. We can't get away from the fact we didn't bat well."
Rossouw's 34 from 32 balls represented Hampshire's chief resistance, but he is an explosive cricketer and when his furtive edge sneaked past first slip for four, the need to dominate welled up inside him. Harmer tossed the next higher and closer to leg stump and the ball turned sharply past a flailing bat as he failed to launch him towards the thumping sounds emanating from Essex Pride across the river.
Essex closed the first day at 147 for 3, 29 ahead, and although they had the benefit of a sunlit evening they still put the pitch into perspective. Nick Browne and Alastair Cook raised 50 before both were lbw in successive overs and Tom Westley missed a work to leg, confounded by the angle of the left-armer Barker around the wicket. Barker was the most insistent of the Hampshire attack.
That left Ravi Bopara to make a relaxed half-century. On a pitch where Harmer had prospered, Hampshire's legspinner, Mason Crane, bled four overs for 30. Bopara's dismissive yet somehow kindly straight six with four overs remaining took Essex into the lead and encapsulated a final hour that shifted the game firmly into Essex's favour.