Gus Atkinson claimed career-best bowling figures as he sliced through the Essex batting and wrested the initiative back Surrey’s way on the first day of the LV= Insurance County Championship match at Chelmsford.
The 25-year-old seamer, called in to replace rested leading wicket-taker Dan Worrall for only his 10th first-class appearance, claimed the prized scalp of Sir Alastair Cook among his maiden five-wicket haul to finish with figures of 6-68.
Essex had looked comfortable taking first use of a flat track under light cloud cover when Cook and Nick Browne put on 62 at a run-a-minute for the first wicket, and Tom Westley and Matt Critchley added 114 for the fourth wicket in 34 overs. Cook (51), Westley (62) and Critchley (60) all made hay before a mid-innings collapse in the face of a swinging ball in late afternoon.
The reigning county champions had been toiling before Atkinson and spinner Will Jacks (2-24) combined to reduce Essex from 218-3 to 241-7 inside seven overs with three wickets falling in just 13 deliveries. Only a breezy ninth-wicket stand of 62 between Simon Harmer and Sam Cook enabled Essex to become the first team to take 300 runs off Surrey’s attack this season.
Surrey openers Rory Burns and Dom Sibley survived two lively overs from Jamie Porter and Harmer before the close to reduce Essex’s advantage by one run.
It was not until Atkinson was called upon at the end of an uneventful first hour that Surrey finally made a breakthrough. With his second ball he had Nick Browne fencing at one that flew to third slip.
Cook, taking the more aggressive role in the opening partnership, was particularly strong through the covers which was where the majority of his seven fours came.
However, Cook’s 78-ball innings was not without alarm as he was dropped twice, once on 13 at backward point by Jamie Smith and just after passing his fifty when Ollie Pope failed to hang on a very tough chance at second slip. The latter reprieve did not prove costly as he perished almost immediately when Ben Foakes adjusted exceptionally well to claim an inside edge low to his right and give Atkinson a second wicket.
Foakes took a second catch behind soon after lunch when Dan Lawrence shuffled awkwardly across his stumps and nicked a delivery from Sean Abbott.
With Westley largely on the back foot metaphorically during a profitable fourth-wicket partnership, Critchley took the initiative, pulling Atkinson for four and then lofting Cameron Steel twice over long leg for sixes.
Westley narrowly beat Critchley to fifty, though his milestone shot was less than memorable as it raced away to the fine-leg boundary from an inside edge. But while Westley required 127 balls to get there, Critchley reached his fourth fifty in six innings this season with a push into the covers from his 85th ball.
But after bringing up the century partnership when he hooked Abbott for four, Critchley chased a wide-ish ball from Jacks and Rory Burns took a stupendous one-handed catch, full-length to his right at slip. It precipitated a rush of wickets punctuated by a six over midwicket by Michael Pepper.
Westley followed when he dragged on against Jordan Clark and lost his off-stump before Pepper edged behind off an injudicious attempt to reverse-sweep Jacks.
Doug Bracewell launched Jacks for six over extra cover before he edged a ball from Atkinson into his stumps. Then Shane Snater played all over another one from Atkinson and was bowled.
It was left to Harmer and Cook to show their batting betters how it should be done. Ulitmately, Cook and Harmer were the final two victims for Atkinson, who found extra bounce to dismiss Cook and then helped Foakes to a fifth catch behind to end Harmer’s resistance.