Alastair Cook hit a fine half-century but Essex did not enjoy the best of starts on their pre-season tour to Barbados, losing to Hampshire by four wickets in a 40-over match.
Essex made 213 for 8 with England opening batsman Cook maintaining his excellent form of the winter with a well-constructed 55 from 59 balls, that included two sixes, before he was caught at long-on.
Chief support came from fellow left-hander Matt Walker who faced 51 deliveries in scoring 45 while former captain Mark Pettini also demonstrated useful form with 26 from 28 balls before was run out, a fate that also befell former Kent batsman Walker.
It was all-rounder Ben Howell who provided the defining contribution for Hampshire who reached their target with nine deliveries to spare.
The 22 year-old, who was struck on his helmet by a ball from Graham Napier early in his innings, was unshaken and also unbeaten with 70 at as his side reached 214 for 6. He added 127 for the fourth wicket with Sean Ervine to regain the initiative for their side who had lost four wickets for three runs following an opening partnership worth 65.
Howell hit two sixes and three fours from the 90 balls he faced while Ervine made 61 from 65 balls, with six fours. The pick of the Essex attack was Napier who bowled with a lively pace to finish with 4 for 30 from his eight-over allocation, showing no ill-effects of the back problem that sidelined him for the second half of last season.
The sight of Cook continuing to score freely will also be encouraging for the county, who expect to have the left-hander available for the initial tranche of domestic matches.
Essex chief executive David East said: “We haven’t had it confirmed yet, but we’re hopeful that we should have Alastair for the first six County Championship games of the season.
“He probably feels he has a point to prove in limited-overs cricket, too, so we’re hopeful he’ll help us to a great start.”
* Paul Hiscock is the co-writer of a recently published book, ’60 Classic Essex Matches’. Priced at £12.99 plus p&p, ordering details are available at www.calmproductions.com or call 0845 408 2606. Copies can also be purchased from the Essex Cricket retail outlet.