AN undefeated 102 by Mark Pettini guided Essex to a winning start against Worcestershire as two rusty teams re-embraced the concept of 50-over cricket in the Royal London One-Day Cup at New Road.
Both counties had little time to prepare for a return to the format after a break of five years and it was no coincidence that Pettini and Ravi Bopara, two of those most familiar with past competitions, put the Eagles on the way to an eight-wicket victory.
They laid the foundations with a well-paced partnership of 109 in 24 overs and New Zealander Jesse Ryder gave his side a final push with four six sixes in romping to a half-century from 38 balls.
Worcestershire only managed to post a total of 238 for seven thanks to an unbroken stand of 93 in the last 11 overs by Joe Leach and Shaaiq Choudhry, but this was not nearly enough to put Essex under pressure as they eased home with more than seven overs to spare.
Essex wicketkeeper James Foster successfully appeals for the wicket of Daryl Mitchell. Picture: GAVIN ELLIS/TGSPHOTO
There was a wobble at the start of the run-chase when Tom Westley was out to Mitchell McClenaghan's fourth ball, but Bopara, preparing for an England Lions call-up on this ground in a fortnight's time, quelled the threat of the left-arm paceman.
Quickly into position to attack anything short on a slow surface, he took charge of the situation until he was out for 59, playing across a ball from Leach, but Pettini's one-day expertise continued to shine through on a comfortable afternoon for Essex.
A measured half-century was reached with only five boundaries and five more fours took him to a century from 112 balls. He reached the milestone with a nudge for three, which put Ryder on strike to win the match with his fifth six.
He was unbeaten with 68 in an unbroken stand of 127 in 16.2 overs.
Earlier Worcestershire were hi-jacked by Graham Napier, taking wickets with the first two balls of the match, and they were later tied up as Essex's spin pair, Tim Phillips and Westley, captured three for 57 in their 19 overs.
Graham Napier celebrates the wicket of Tom Fell, one of four Worcestershire wickets he claimed. Picture: GAVIN ELLIS/TGSPHOTO
Napier's spectacular start saw Richard Oliver lbw to one that swung into him and Tom Fell bowled off stump as he pushed down the wrong line.
Alexei Kervezee had no problems in dealing with Napier's hat-trick ball and the Rapids gradually got into the game with a stand of 59 until the advent of spin, with two lbw dismissals for Phillips in six balls.
Kervezee (37) was trapped playing back to the left-arm spinner and Daryl Mitchell (28) plated across the front pad.
The middle order batsmen hinted at a revival but every time Essex produced a killer blow. Off-spinner Westley had Tom Kohler-Cadmore (34) stumped on the leg-side by James Foster and Napier again took two wickets in the first over of a new spell.
Ben Cox (20) was caught at mid-wicket and Ross Whiteley (22) thick edged a drive to Foster but this time Worcestershire did have a significant response with Leach (45 not out) and Choudhry (44 not out) both reaching their highest scores in List A cricket.