Lancashire coach Glen Chapple has strongly criticised the Chelmsford in use for his side’s fixture against Essex after 26 wickets fell on the first day of their County Championship clash.
Lancashire and Essex, third and fourth in Division One respectively, came into the game with little to play for but as two of the country’s best-performing sides. However, the match quickly took on a farcical nature, with wickets tumbling at a rapid rate throughout the day.
Lancashire were bowled out for 131, with Simon Harmer taking 5-41, but still claimed a first innings lead of 24, Tom Bailey claiming 5-36, having earlier top scored with an unbeaten 24. For Essex, Sir Alastair Cook’s 40 was the only innings to exceed 20.
Worse was yet to come, with Lancashire slipping to 7-6 inside six overs, Shane Snater taking 4-6, and Sam Cook 2-6. With the light worsening, Essex were forced to turn to spin, and George Bell counter-attacked to take the score to 25-6 at stumps. Chapple, speaking after play, made no effort to hide his displeasure at the surface. “We’ve got lads in really good form having really good seasons who are desperate to win a game, and they’ve just found the pitch unplayable really,” he told the BBC. “I thought we scrapped brilliantly to get to what we did to be honest and then we bowled them out for 25, 27 short of our score.
“Obviously the surface of the pitch looks poor. The ball is coming off it different every time. If you watch the batters’ innings through they can’t lay a bat on it. Obviously we’re going to try and fight to get as many in front as we can and see what happens to the pitch in the remaining part of the game.”
According to Chapple, the conditions worsened significantly as Lancashire entered their second innings, despite having already been difficult earlier on.
“Obviously we had to bat under the lights and that just exacerbated the movement. We’ve got really good players who couldn’t hit the ball tonight, so it’s difficult to say what’s going on, but obviously it’s a really tough pitch. For the first three-quarters of the day there was a ball with your name on it, that was a given. The last 30 minutes, completely ridiculous.”
There were concerns about the state of the pitch inside the Lancashire camp before the game, but it proved even more treacherous than they had feared.
“Sometimes pitches look different and you don’t know [how they will play],” Chapple said. “You never assume anything, we just prepared to play as well as we could. We knew it was a bat-first [pitch] because the surface isn’t really intact. One end has got footholes in it, so we knew it would potentially get worse. But we didn’t expect it to play like that. Both teams have got good bowling units, but in a season where runs have been achievable, this is completely different.
“No way, shape or form is that good enough. We’ve come to play cricket for four days. No way is that good enough.”
Chelmsford wasn’t the only place to see wickets tumble, with 23 batters dismissed on the first day of Hampshire’s clash with Kent at the Rose Bowl. The spate of collapses is likely to heighten scrutiny on the County Championship schedule, with ECB research showing that batting averages in September are significantly lower than at other times in the season.