Essex v Yorkshire - Day 1: It’s advantage Sir Alastair Cook in the battle of the former England captains at Chelmsford

THEY CAME to Chelmsford to watch a former England captain with bat in hand, but it was Sir Alastair Cook rather than Joe Root who took centre stage.

THEY CAME to Chelmsford to watch a former England captain with bat in hand, but it was Sir Alastair Cook rather than Joe Root who took centre stage.

Yorkshire’s decision to bowl meant that Root had to wait his turn in his first appearance since resigning as England’s Test captain, so it was Cook who showed his enduring class instead, Cook who lit up an attritional first day as Essex reached 234-3.

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Cook, whose departure as Test captain in 2017 paved the way for Root to take charge, scored 107, his 71st first-class hundred.

Still got it: Sir Alastair Cook on his way to a fine century against Yorkshire at Chelmsford. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

The tall left-hander, who turns 38 in December, and who recently passed 25,000 first-class runs, batted with his usual stubbornness and staying power; he is contracted at Essex until the end of next season, good news for most in a crowd of around 1,500, who watched in pleasant sunshine and agreeable temperatures as the first signs of summer blessed the south-east.

This was very much a Cook sort of day, one which rewarded the virtues of patience and discipline as opposed to those of flair and flamboyance.

After winning the toss, Yorkshire would have expected to chisel out more than two wickets before lunch, none in the afternoon and just one in the evening, but a green-tinged surface proved slow and rather docile, and the best that could be said was that they kept things tight, the run-rate hovering at around two runs per over before a late injection of impetus against the second new ball.

They were a bowler down too, replacing Haris Rauf, the Pakistan quick who has a side niggle, with Root in the only change to the side that drew with Kent. Ben Coad had hoped to play for the first time this season after a groin injury but did not feel quite right in practice before the match; the only other option would have been to draft in Tom Loten from the squad that travelled down, with Yorkshire down to the bare bones now owing to injuries.

Watching brief: Adam Lyth and Joe Root of Yorkshire watch on as Essex's Sir Alastair Cook compiles his innings. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

“It was a tough day’s cricket,” reflected captain Steve Patterson. “We didn’t expect it to be a minefield, but we felt that if there was going to be anything in the pitch it would have been in the morning before the sun baked it.

“By and large we bowled quite well considering we’ve got a depleted attack, and we stuck at it. We created a number of chances but unfortunately put some catches down and had a couple of close lbw appeals that didn’t go our way.”

Yorkshire made an excellent start when Jordan Thompson struck with the third ball of the match, angling it across Nick Browne who groped for it rather and nicked it to third slip, where George Hill claimed a good grab low down.

Not until the penultimate ball of the sixth over did Essex open their scoring, Cook clipping Patterson off his legs for a single to draw ironic applause from the patrons. More authentic applause arrived when Cook drove Thompson to the cover boundary, the shot of a man easing himself, at his own pace, into a long day’s work.

Breakthrough: Jordan Thompson of Yorkshire celebrates the wicket of Nick Browne. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

It should have been 10-2 but the theme of dropped catches that had hurt Yorkshire against Kent continued when Harry Brook, at first slip, spilled Tom Westley on four off Thompson.

The damage was not overly serious, although the second-wicket pair had still added 56 by the time Westley was dispatched for 24, Dom Bess striking with his fourth ball from the River End which the batsman edged to keeper Harry Duke as he tried to cut.

Cook had 31 at lunch out of 63-2 and scored a further 31 in the afternoon as Yorkshire toiled away. Another drop proved costly when Patterson, in his follow-through, grassed Paul Walter on 12 when the total was 85, the ball arriving at a decent height to the bowler’s left. Walter was fortunate gain on 16, Hill putting down a very difficult chance at third slip diving low to his right off Patterson.

Throughout it all, Cook stood imperious, cover-driving sweetly, punching down the ground fluently and whipping the ball off his hips with aplomb. His innings, however, was not without blemish or challenging moments - Bess had a couple of vociferous leg-before shouts turned down and did a good job for his captain, while there was a particularly un-Cook-like waft outside the off stump at Thompson which found fresh air when it could so easily have found the outside edge. Most obviously, Cook was put down one ball after reaching his century from 255 balls, Brook unable to cling on once more at first slip off Thompson.

Walter, a slightly taller and more powerful left-hander than Cook, provided the main aggression, several times using his feet well to Bess. He reached stumps on 89 having added 174 with Cook in 71 overs.

Cook perished to his 268th ball faced, having hit 14 fours, when he chopped on trying to play Patterson through the offside. He departed with an angry swish of his bat before raising it warmly to the cheering crowd.