Leicestershire produced a dominant performance on the second day of the LV=CC match against Essex at Chelmsford.
Nathan Buck collected a superb career-best 5-76 as Essex, who were 229-4 at one point on the first day, were dismissed for 281 early on day two.
Ned Eckersley just loves batting at this ground and he shared 100+ partnerships with half-centurions Greg Smith and Angus Robson as the team closed on a healthy 255-2 after 85 overs.
Eckersley posted a magnificent 147 here last season and again made hay in scoring an unbeaten 104 (281b) after being put down by Kishen Velani in the afternoon session.
Robson ended the day undefeated on 69 (120b) while Smith took his LV=CC tally to 326 runs in just five innings after scoring 59 (109b).
It was a tough day for Essex, whose rotten luck continued as Tymal Mills became the latest seamer to pick up an injury. They stuck to their guns on a decent wicket with Monty Panesar (27-14-51-1) being the pick of the attack.
Leicestershire were buoyed by the wicket of James Foster last night and Buck and Charlie Shreck took the final four Essex wickets for 27 runs within nine overs.
Buck picked up where he left off as Velani (26, 44b), who had collected another couple of boundaries, edged to Rob Taylor at third slip. Shreck then picked up some tangible reward after an economical first day as he bowled debutant Tanveer Sikandar (5, 15b) in the next over.
The pacy Buck recorded his second career five-for by removing Oliver Newby’s (4, 9b) middle stump and Shreck wrapped up the innings in the next over. Panesar (10, 15b) had struck a brace of fours but Shreck hit the stumps to end his brief but eventful stay.
There was an early loss for County as on-loan seamer Newby found the edge of Matthew Boyce (2, 2b) with the second ball of his Essex career and Foster pocketed the catch. It was not a sign of things to come.
Four leg byes got the scoreboard moving before two terrific cover drives by Smith off successive Newby deliveries then raced to the boundary. Runs continued to flow as the stand reached 50 before lunch.
The duo picked up a boundary apiece before Smith struck another four off Mills and pulled a maximum off Newby. A single registered the 50 partnership and Foster introduced Panesar from the Hayes Close End.
Although the spinner started with two maidens, Eckersley clipped and guided Newby away to pick up further boundaries. Leicestershire went in on 61-1 with Smith on 30 and Eckersley 19. County continued to show real intent after lunch and Smith hit successive off side fours off Sikandar in the 21st over.
Eckersley then punched Mills away for four, and Panesar was reintroduced, this time from the River End. The experienced spinner got the odd one to turn and bounce considerably and his canny operating kept a lid on the run rate.
The batsmen were patient and Smith then leant into a beautiful straight drive to record another half-century. It came from 98 balls and was recorded courtesy of a seventh four. The in-form opener also hit a six along the way.
Smith struck two consecutive fours off Panesar, with the first registering the 100 and the second taking the alliance into three figures. Eckersley then collected a further ten runs, including a boundary, and had a big let-off inbetween when Velani dropped a catch off Mills at point.
But Essex picked up the second wicket shortly afterwards as Smith attempted to sweep Panesar to the ropes but he picked out substitute fielder Jake Foley at deep backward square leg. It brought Robson to the wicket and his first four came off Mills, who then had to leave the field as the Essex injury curse struck again.
The home side had now completely run out of fast bowlers who are contracted to the club, and Newby had already got through a lot of work in his first LV=CC game of the campaign, so it was unsurprising that Foster opted for spin at both ends.
A nicely driven two off Essex’s Greg Smith took Eckersley to within one blow of 50 and he duly moved to the landmark by pulling Panesar into the Members’ Stand. Eckersley’s first half-century of the season was a watchful effort, coming from 151 deliveries (5x4, 1x6).
Robson glanced a two off Panesar to take the team to 150 shortly before tea. County went to have a cuppa on 154-2 from 54 overs with Eckersley on 55 and Robson 19. Panesar had figures of 17-10-31-1 at that point.
The 50 partnership came up shortly after tea and the batsmen each collected a four in the opening half hour of the final session. Robson then struck two boundaries in Newby’s 19th over – the 64th of the innings.
Eckersley drove Smith through extra to record a seventh four and a pulled boundary off Panesar recorded a batting point for County in the 71st over. Robson also put away a short Panesar delivery and a well-timed cut off Sikandar saw him register an 89-ball 50 with his sixth four.
Eckersley and Robson both drove down the ground as the partnership reached 100 and Tom Westley came on. The off-spinner soon had his hands on his head as Eckersley appeared to get a feather on one but the ball went to ground.
Ben Foakes bowled his first over in first-class cricket and Eckersley helped himself to another four to move into the nineties. The new ball was taken immediately but it did not halt County’s progress.
Eckersley worked the ball around nicely as he moved to 98 and a first ton of the summer arrived as he steered Newby to the vacant third man boundary. The milestone came from 275 balls and 50 of the 102 runs came in boundaries (11x4, 1x6). The duo took their stand to 139 by stumps, and County trail by just 26 runs with eight first innings wickets intact at the halfway stage of the game.