Cricket: Fletcher's watching brief

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Kent 191 & 60-0; Essex 541-5 dec

GRAHAM GOOCH was the subject of the two most interesting questions here yesterday. He answered the first himself at 12.40 when he declared Essex's first innings at 541 for five, 350 runs ahead of Kent, who scored 60 for nought before rain stopped play for the day.

Keith Fletcher, England's manager, watching Essex for the first time this season, politely refused to answer the second question: will Gooch be back in the England team? After his score of 236 in Essex's first innings, following two hundreds earlier this month, there is no doubt about Gooch's form.

Apparently, Gooch is keen to play for his country again. There should be plenty of Test runs to be had this summer before a final visit to Australia, where Gooch, who has never done really well there, would like to produce a memorable climax to his Test career.

The smart view in Chelmsford is that Gooch will be back, but perhaps not until the five- day Tests start.

Fletcher had hoped to have a long look at Peter Such, who promised much on a wicket that was beginning to turn, and had David Fulton reaching uncertainly, but rain came too soon for Such to provide an unanswerable case for his inclusion.

Nasser Hussain must have hoped to impress Fletcher, too, but he played as if he had been ordered to score quickly, and a flash at a ball wide of the off- stump gave the wicketkeeper, Steven Marsh, a catch off a thin edge. Despite two hundreds and two fifties already, Hussain seems to have been relegated from England's list of probables to the list of possibles.

Although there were some non-playing experts who thought that Gooch should have declared late on the second day, Essex batted on, scoring another 95 runs at a run a minute. There was a 50-stand between Nadeem Shahid and Ronald Irani, who had celebrated his debut at Chelmsford with his best bowling figures of four for 27, and now scored steadily, coming in on 30 not out.

Another name on Fletcher's list would have been Mark Ilott, who bowled rhythmically but was the victim of a short boundary on the leg side.

Fletcher was also keen for a first look at Mike Kasprowicz, the 22-year-old import from Queensland. Fletcher stood by the sightscreen to watch the young man's line and may have been more impressed by the potential than the performance. What Fletcher learned yesterday was that Kasprowicz cares. Each bad ball was accompanied by a cross flick of the wrist and an abrupt turn back to his mark.

Graham Gooch had plenty of time to watch the Cup final, and when the day's play was finally called off shortly after 5pm he must have been regretting his decision to bat for quite so long.