Broken finger blow for Pettini during Essex warm-ups

Essex batsman Mark Pettini has fractured a finger on his left hand during the warm-up drills that took place before the two-day friendly against Worcestershire at Chelmsford, on March 28-29.

The former captain had been in good pre-season form, with 28 in a drawn match with Surrey following a top score of 52 in a 40-over friendly against Middlesex.

Pettini now faces a battle to be fit for the start of the County Championship season, with Essex kicking off their Division Two campaign against Gloucestershire at Chelmsford in the opening round of games from April 5-8.

In gloriously sunny conditions, there was better luck for opener Billy Godleman in the match against Worcestershire, with the left-hander compiling Essex’s first hundred of the year – and possibly the earliest ever scored at Chelmsford.

His patient innings of 112 spanned three hours and 50 minutes and contained 14 boundaries as Godleman staked his claim for a place in the starting eleven next week.

With Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara on England duty, plus Owais Shah and Ryan ten Doeschate involved in the IPL and thus also ruled out of the opening Championship match, there was welcome news for Essex about overseas signing Alviro Petersen, who is expected to arrive in the UK on April 3 ready to start his two-month stint.

Although Essex have enjoyed summer-like conditions at Chelmsford for their three pre-season warm-up games, a new initiative on the ground will allow them to continue outdoor practice whatever the weather.

In mid-February head groundsman Stuart Kerrison oversaw the erection of an enormous marquee on the edge of the square, measuring 40ft x 100ft and standing 16ft high at the apex. “The cavernous structure is covering the practice area used at the start of every season and, with transparent sheeting covering the sides and roof, it is very much like a gardener’s polytunnel,” he said.

With no overseas tour for the Essex squad and an early April start to the Championship, the players were anxious to get outside practice and this new ‘net’ has served its purpose.

“From the playing perspective, it’s possible to ‘net’ inside the marquee and therefore it allows near-constant use and practice,” added Kerrison. “Having enough light in the marquee was a concern in the planning stages but, now it is up, it is surprisingly bright.”

Regarded as one of the best groundsmen in the country, he has proved a loyal servant to the county since he first came to Chelmsford in 1984 to begin a youth training scheme. Seven years later, he was appointed head groundsman at the age of just 23 and he is still there.

He admits that it is too soon to make a definitive assessment of the merits of the marquee which has a four-net capacity. “This is a lot of a ‘see how it goes’ situation as it hasn’t been done before but so far the feedback has been  favourable,” he said.

Essex head coach Paul Grayson is delighted with the concept. “Stuart came to me before Christmas as he had been looking into the possibility of such a facility and I agreed it was a good idea,” said Grayson.

“This construction with its overhead cover offers the benefits of practicing outdoors on grass without the threat of rain. The opportunity for grass practice from the middle of March is priceless and will hopefully give us a head start on our rivals.”

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