Cricket: Century fails to inspire Essex

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PAUL PRICHARD'S first championship century for two seasons was the centrepiece of a competitive opening day in the match between Surrey and Essex at The Oval. However, Essex failed to build on his innings, finishing on 216 for 5 off 82 overs.

Prichard contributed a determined 103, a personal triumph for the former Essex captain who had endured a dreadful 1998 when he managed just 237 first-class runs at an average of 13.16. His top score last season was a paltry 24.

The 34-year-old opener made a positive start after his successor Ronnie Irani had won the toss and chosen to bat. Displaying his trademark offside square-cuts and drives he was also severe on anything short, twice pulling fast bowler Martin Bicknell for six. His first 50 came in quick time, off 87 balls, including six fours as well as those pair of sixes. But as he got nearer his century the runs became harder to find, Bicknell and Alex Tudor bowling a better line than they had previously managed.

Eventually Surrey's captain Mark Butcher strayed too wide of off-stump and Prichard cut him to the third-man boundary for four in the 70th over, his second 50 coming off 142 balls. It was his first first-class century since his 224 against Kent at Canterbury in August 1997.

Mark Ramprakash's unbeaten half century put Middlesex firmly in the driving seat on the opening day of their match against Yorkshire at Headingley.

Yorkshire were dismissed for 160 despite a defiant 62 from David Byas and Ramprakash rubbed salt into the wounds with an unbeaten 67 as Middlesex reached 124 for 3 by the close. Earlier, Richard Johnson took 4 for 56 as Yorkshire were bowled out in less than two sessions.

The Somerset seam bowler Matthew Bulbeck claimed a career-best 5 for 58 but Nottinghamshire got the upper hand at Trent Bridge.

Bulbeck helped reduce Notts to 151 for 7 but a tail-end fightback led by Alex Wharf, who hit 42, saw 100 added for the final three wickets and a respectable first innings of 251. The Notts seam attack then got to work, reducing Somerset to 5 for 3 and then 69 for 5 before they reached 94 for 5 at the close.

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