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Ned Eckersley reached two significant milestones as Leicestershire battled to 270-7 on the first day of the LV=CC game against Worcestershire at Grace Road.
Eckersley started the day requiring 28 for 1,000 first-class runs for the summer and 55 to reach four figures in the Championship, and achieved both in posting his third hundred of the summer.
After putting on 41 for the second wicket with Niall O’Brien (31, 59b), Eckersley (106, 149b) shared 92 for the fifth with Josh Cobb (44, 93b) while Ben Raine (16*, 51) also played an important role.
The left-hander was part of a 40-run alliance with Eckersley before helping to add a further 44 before stumps with James Sykes (14, 18b) and Ollie Freckingham, who played some fine shots in moving to 22 not out (38b).
The wickets were shared around Worcestershire’s hard-working attack after Alan Richardson claimed his 50th LV=CC victim of the season in the fifth over.
There was a late adjustment to the Leicestershire squad as Matthew Boyce picked up an injury, so Tom Wells came back from the Second XI game at Derbyshire. Wells therefore retained his place in the side, with Matthew Hoggard coming in for Boyce in the one change in personnel to the XI on duty at Glamorgan.
Cobb captained the team, and he elected to bat after Daryl Mitchell called incorrectly. O’Brien struck two boundaries through extra and backward point respectively in the fourth over as he started in positive fashion.
But there was a notable moment for Richardson (22-6-53-2) in the next over. The bowler found the edge of Greg Smith (1, 12b), Moeen Ali snapping up the chance at first slip to give the evergreen seamer a 50th wicket of the season.
That brought Eckersley to the wicket, and he drove beautifully through the off-side to get off the mark with a four. O’Brien nicked Richardson through the cordon to gather a further boundary, and Eckersley also gained a four in that manner in Jack Shantry’s second over.
The batsman also drove through backward point for four to move to 14, so he was halfway towards his first target. Joe Leach (9-1-29-1) then replaced Richardson, whose probing opening spell yielded 1-11 off 8, and O’Brien edged the young bowler in the middle of keeper Richard Johnson and Moeen to collect a fourth boundary.
The County 50 came up in the 19th over but a second wicket fell as Leach, who had extracted plenty of movement, found the outside edge of O’Brien and Mitchell took the catch at second slip.
Shiv Thakor (9, 23b) drove Leach through mid-off for four, and Shaaiq Choudhry was then introduced in place of the seamer from the Pavilion End. The spinner picked up a wicket in his first over, Thakor out leg before.
Shantry had bowled a good ten-over spell from the Bennett End that went for just 17, and Richardson came back to bowl an over before lunch. County came through it unscathed, and Wells went on to strike Choudhry (16-4-31-1) down the ground for four as Leicestershire took lunch on 69-3 from 31 overs.
Eckersley was on 21 at that point and he tickled two consecutive fours in the first over after the interval from Shantry to move to 1,000 first-class runs. The batsman then had a moment of fortune against the left armer in his next over as an edge carried to Moeen but went to ground.
The signs were looking good for Eckersley, particularly when another nick in Shantry’s third over of the session ran down to the vacant third man boundary for four. Eckersley then played with soft hands to guide Richardson for four before driving off the back foot to the ropes.
A nice stand had developed but Shantry ended it in the 40th over, pinning Wells (8, 34b) in front with the score on 94. Eckersley moved to a 116-ball half-century with his ninth four, a lovely piece of timing through mid-on, and Leicestershire now had 100 on the board.
After 44 overs, Richardson had bowled 15 and Shantry 17, so they had done the bulk of the work. The leading wicket-taker had a well-earned breather with Leach coming on at the Pavilion End, and Cobb struck two excellent fours to relieve some of the pressure.
Shantry continued to operate and Eckersley took his boundary tally into double figures with a punch through the covers. Cobb drove Leach through mid-off for four more, so County were just starting to get on top.
A single took Eckersley to 55, so he now had 1,000 LV=CC runs for the summer. Cessford (12-0-58-0) then replaced Shantry, whose figures were 1-41 off 19 overs after 49 overs of play. Eckersley took ten off his second over back, including a nice shot behind square that went for four.
An Eckersley single took the stand to 50 and Cobb drove to four as the duo continued to impress. Mitchell opted for spin from both ends as Moeen (11-1-20-1) came on for his first bowl, Cobb taking the attack to Choudhry by striking two consecutive fours.
Mitchell (1-1-0-0) had an over before tea, Leicestershire progressing to 172-4 with Eckersley on 75 and Cobb 40. After the interval, Mitchell went back to his spinners, and Eckersley played a lovely lap sweep off Moeen that raced down to long leg for four. A ball from Choudhry then evaded everyone and went for four byes, before Worcestershire picked up their fifth wicket.
Cobb attempted to loft Moeen over the top but succeeded only in picking out Tom Fell at mid-off as an important stand came to its conclusion. Eckersley guided Moeen for four as he moved into the nineties, and a brace from the number three took County to their first batting point.
Leicestershire were 207-5 after 77 overs when Cessford returned and Eckersley off-drove for four before picking up the single that took him to an excellent 222-ball hundred. The landmark contained 14 fours and was crucial to County’s progress on the first day.
Raine also knuckled down and Leicestershire were 219-5 when the new ball was taken immediately. Raine guided down to third man to pick up his first four but the team suffered a blow as Eckersley was bowled by Richardson off the inside edge as he attempted to leave the ball.
Sykes scored 13 off his first 12 balls, including a superb on-drive that went for four, but he was caught at short mid-wicket by Moeen off the ever-willing Shantry with the score on 241.
Freckingham picked up five courtesy of a wayward throw from Fell and a lovely stroke through straight mid-wicket off Shantry (25-6-62-2) went for four to register a second batting point. Freckingham then drove the left armer for three before Raine nudged down to third man for four.
Ten came from that 91st over and Freckingham powerfully pulled the next delivery from Richardson to the ropes. The duo successfully negotiated the final stages of the day to ensure County ended with three first innings wickets intact.
* Thanks to Ed Melia for the photo of Ned.