Alastair Cook made his second hundred of the season as Essex drew a thrilling Specsavers County Championship division two contest with Sussex at Hove.
Dropped on one, the England captain anchored Essex’s pursuit of 329 in 91 overs which looked like being successful when he shared a fifth wicket stand of 103 in 29 overs with Jesse Ryder.
But the ball after Ryder (35) brought up the century stand with a boundary, he was bowled off an inside edge trying to work leg-spinner Luke Wells into the off side.
Wells then had Ryan ten Doeschate brilliantly taken by the diving Matt Machan on the extra cover boundary and Essex called off the chase when James Foster became Ajmal Shahzad’s third victim of the innings, lbw trying to work the ball through the leg side.
When Sussex took the new ball they needed three wickets in ten overs but Cook was playing with such confidence by then and the captains shook hands on a draw on 266 for 7 after Graham Napier had kept Cook company for 40 tense minutes.
Sussex had missed their big chance in the fifth over. Steve Magoffin, who had pinned Nick Browne with his eighth ball, found the edge of Cook’s bat but Danny Briggs at slip put down a straightforward chance.
Cook endured a torrid opening to his innings. He survived a concerted appeal for lbw by Magoffin on two before putting down some roots as Essex, who lost Tom Westley on the stroke of lunch to Shahzad, added 14 runs in ten overs at the start of the afternoon session.
But with Cook settled and wickets in hand Essex were in a position to raise the tempo. Shahzad got some reverse swing to pin Dan Lawrence (22) but that was Sussex’s only success in the afternoon as Cook and Ryder began to build a substantial stand.
The 53rd hundred of his first-class career may not have been his most fluent but Cook, who is due to play two more Championship matches for his county before he prepares for England’s series against Sri Lanka, played with increasing authority while Ryder signalled a change in tempo by hoisting Briggs down the ground for six.
When the last hour began Essex needed 95 off 16 overs but the loss of ten Doeschate and Foster fatally holed their ambitions.
Cook finished unbeaten on 127 from 246 balls with 13 fours but perhaps of more significance was that spent nearly six hours at the crease, giving him plenty of time to adjust to the new ECB-approved helmet he was wearing for only the second occasion.
Earlier, Jamie Porter completed his maiden Championship five-wicket haul by removing Shahzad for 23. The 22-year-old finished with 5 for 82, having shared the wickets with Napier (5 for 92) as Sussex were dismissed for 288.
What they said...
Alastair Cook (Essex opening batsman who made 127 not out)
I got a bit of luck early on (when he was dropped on one) so it was nice to cash in. We knew we had to take the chase deep and just when we got it down to five runs an over with Jesse (Ryder) batting well we lost him when we needed that partnership to take us another 50 runs closer, because it was always hard for new batsmen coming in on that pitch.
It was a good game of four-day cricket on a good pitch with a lot of ebb and flow. We showed some good guts at the end when we were seven down not to lose.
On his new helmet
It’s not my preference, I would rather bat in my other one but I totally understand the position everyone is in regarding the regulations.
I just think I pick the ball up better in the other one but this one isn’t too bad in terms of my line of vision.
Ben Brown (Sussex captain)
It was a great game of cricket between two teams who I think will be at the top of the second division at the end of the season. It felt no different to a hard-fought division one game to be honest.
No one could quite force the result. We always felt we had enough runs and even when Cook and Ryder were playing well we thought we were always one wicket away from being on top. Luke Wells got a couple of wickets for us and suddenly we were in the driving seat but we couldn’t quite force the result.
Dropping Cook on one was a key moment, there’s no getting away from that because when you get chances against top players you have to take them. He played brilliantly to be fair.
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