England in comfort zone in Essex Ashes warm-up mismatch

 

England's Ashes warm-up match lost its first-class status halfway through the third afternoon at Chelmsford to allow Boyd Rankin and Reece Topley to bolster Essex's injury-depleted attack.

The hosts lost David Masters, Tymal Mills and finally part-time off-spinner Tom Westley to respective Achilles, hamstring and hand injuries.

The contest was therefore in danger of being reduced to a mis-match, with England captain Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott batting against only two fit frontline bowlers - and three substitute fielders, including two schoolboys, also in action.

Shortly before rain interrupted proceedings, Topley - initially rested by Essex for this match - bowled three balls, therefore officially ensuring this was no longer a first-class fixture.

Among those who might feel a little aggrieved were Essex leg-spinner Tom Craddock and England's Tim Bresnan - whose career-best bowling and first hundred in six years would no longer count in the records.

England's management and their hosts nonetheless decided a pragmatic decision was required to ensure home preparations for next week's first Test against Australia were not further undermined.

When the teams had to go off, Cook (69no) and Trott had taken their team to 139 for one in their second innings - and into an overall lead of 274.

There was a reassuring sight for England this morning when Graeme Swann was able to field and bowl, after x-rays revealed no fracture to his right arm.

England had a fleeting injury scare over their first-choice spinner yesterday.

But they confirmed last night Swann had suffered no serious injury and there was physical evidence of his well-being while Essex's last pair Mills and Craddock took the hosts to 278 all out.

Numbers 10 and 11 excelled themselves in a stand of 47, belying their combined first-class average of 13.

They did have one moment of fortune when Craddock was given not out on nine after appearing to get an inside-edge on to his body which looped to Kevin Pietersen at gully off Steven Finn.

Mills had already hit Swann, Bresnan and Joe Root on the forearm, helmet and knee with his left-arm pace in this match - and in an entertaining first half-hour this morning he was at it again with a bat in his hand.

Short-leg Ian Bell was in the firing line this time, as Mills cracked a ball from Finn into the close fielder's knee.

Bell was limping for a while but not seriously hurt.

Mills was not content with that blow, though, and after hitting Root out of the attack, he turned his attention to Swann again.

The off-spinner eventually got his revenge, but only after conceding 19 runs in his 1.3 overs.

Mills clubbed the first two balls of Swann's second over for six, over cow corner and then straight. But resorting to unaccustomed back-foot defence for the next delivery, he missed it and was bowled.

Cook had an early let-off, on five, in England's second innings when Sajid Mahmood failed to hold a sharp return catch.

Otherwise, he and Root made easy progress in a stand of 76 until the latter missed an attempted pull at leg-spinner Craddock and had to go lbw.

After lunch, Cook duly passed an 80-ball 50 during an unbroken half-century stand with Trott as circumstances conspired to ensure an embarrassing comfort zone for both batsmen.

PA

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