Nathan Buck picked up two crucial late wickets as Leicestershire restricted Essex to 254-6 on the opening day of the LV=CC game at Chelmsford.
County reduced their hosts to 75-4 at one stage before Mark Pettini (71, 161b) and James Foster, who was dropped on 44, shared 154 for the fifth wicket.
Essex were moving into the pound seats but Buck dismissed the duo before stumps – including Foster in the final over – as County stuck to their task.
Buck finished with fine figures of 3-64 off 21.5 overs, Anthony Ireland (19-4-64-2) picked up a brace, Rob Taylor (15-2-41-1) had success while Charlie Shreck (23-10-39-0) and Jigar Naik (15-4-31-0) were very hard to get away.
Leicestershire made their first changes to the team in 2014 as Michael Thornely and Buck came in for Niall O’Brien and Ben Raine. Ned Eckersley took over the role of wicket-keeper.
There were a number of players not in action in the latest LV=CC encounter. O’Brien is away with Ireland while Ramnaresh Sarwan (back), Dan Redfern (finger) and Shiv Thakor (finger) are injured.
Essex were without an entire XI of contracted players. Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara are on international duty, Jesse Ryder has not yet arrived in the country, Ryan ten Doeschate is at the IPL, and Dave Masters, Graham Napier, Reece Topley, Saj Mahmood, Tim Phillips, Tom Craddock, Nick Browne are all injured.
The home side were therefore forced into four switches to the side that drew at Gloucestershire. Mark Pettini and Kishen Velani were brought in while Essex handed debuts on-loan Lancashire seamer Oliver Newby and Pakistan all-rounder Tanveer Sikandar, who has been signed on a dual registration with Hertfordshire.
Essex won the toss and elected to bat but they were kept in check by Shreck and Ireland. Nine of the first eleven overs were maidens as Tom Westley and Jaik Mickleburgh were forced to dig in.
The pressure almost told as Mickleburgh drove back to Shreck but the seamer couldn’t quite hang on in the 11th over. Buck then replaced Ireland and the young paceman sent down another couple of tight overs.
Shreck had a breather after a super spell of 7-6-1-0 at the Hayes Close End and Ireland then returned in place of the tall seamer. Westley (15, 65b) drove through mid-on to collect the first boundary of the morning in the 15th over and repeated that stroke two overs later.
Mickleburgh drove through the covers to record a four but the brakes were reapplied. Taylor and Buck each bowled a maiden and Taylor, who was swinging the ball back into the right handers, then forced Westley to drag onto his stumps with the score on 25 in the 22nd over.
In came Greg Smith, and the newcomer survived an early leg before appeal from the on-song Taylor. Smith then overtook Mickleburgh by glancing and driving successive boundaries off Buck in the 25th over. A three off the edge from Mickleburgh took the score past 50 in the 30th over and Essex went in on 57-1, with Mickleburgh on 17 and Smith 21.
County cashed in on their morning’s work after the interval with a three-wicket burst. Both batsmen found the fence as they looked to up the ante but young opener Mickleburgh (27, 99b) became the second victim to chop onto the stumps as Buck picked up some success.
Ireland then produced two jaffas in the space of three balls. Smith (29, 48b) hit a four before edging one that took off and went through to Eckersley. Foakes (2, 2b) picked up a two from the first ball but he too nicked the lively seamer to the ‘keeper.
Essex were in some bother but Pettini and Foster, who now averages 61.54 against Leicestershire in his first-class career, led a recovery. The captain collected four with a powerful cut while Pettini drove and flicked away for further boundaries. Foster then cut and drove to the fence as Essex moved into three figures in the 45th over.
Foster again produced two nicely timed off side fours as Essex progressed to 113-4 after 50 overs. Naik then entered the attack and Foster nicked the off-spinner between Eckersley and Greg Smith to pick up a fortuitous sixth four.
Foster glanced a Shreck delivery to the ropes and the stand then moved to 50. Thornely (2-0-6-0) entered the attack and Pettini struck away for his third four while Foster then guided Buck down to the third man boundary as the batsmen continued to play nicely.
County nearly had a fifth wicket as Foster edged Buck but Naik put down the chance at first slip. Essex went to tea on 143-4 with Foster closing in on his half-century. Pettini edged a four in the first over of the evening session and then clipped through mid-wicket to record another boundary.
Foster registered a 97-ball 50 (8x4) as he punched through the off side to collect a single and Pettini drove through the covers to gather four. A single in the 72nd over took the alliance to 100 and Pettini then cut a rare loose Naik delivery for four to register a 134-ball half-century.
Pettini flicked Taylor away to the fence to record Essex’s first batting point and another four followed from the next delivery. The score reached 205-4 after 80 overs and the new ball was taken immediately by Ireland and Shreck.
The second over of the new cherry cost ten, including a fine stroke between mid-wicket and mid-on by Pettini. Foster pulled Ireland away to take the stand to 150 in the 86th over and both men were now into the seventies.
A change of bowling worked as Buck got his first ball back to bounce considerably and Pettini could only fend to Angus Robson at gully. Velani (18*, 30b) scored three early fours and the side recorded their second batting point before Buck trapped Foster leg before with the penultimate delivery of the day to ensure Leicestershire finished with their noses in front.