Cricket: Champions cower under Essex pressure

MICHAEL AUSTIN reports from Edgbaston Essex 238 and 450-6 dec Warwickshire 253 and 265 Essex win by 170 runs
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A home run beckons Essex, coincidentally just like their fellow title challengers Surrey and Derbyshire, following their early-afternoon triumph over Warwickshire, county champions for the past two years.

Essex meet Sussex and Glamorgan, both at Chelmsford, after a match which Paul Prichard, the captain, described as one they simply had to win to keep a third championship title in six years within range.

The table is so tight that even dropping a bonus point seems heinous with potentially fatal consequences. Essex, however, pocketed their sixth win in seven games, with Neil Williams and Peter Such taking four wickets.

Warwickshire fell with a roar, not a whimper, using the cudgel to add 200 runs in two and a half hours for the loss of their last seven wickets. Essex knew that victory would be theirs from the time Graham Gooch and Prichard became self-appointed match-winners with third-day centuries. Making 436 for victory was not a possibility for Warwickshire.

At times, Essex not so much appealed but implored the umpires to award leg-before decisions. Not because success was in doubt, but just to make an earlier getaway for today's important business at Lords.

Trevor Penney, with 70 from 119 balls, Neil Smith and Ashley Giles could have been identified as Lancashire sympathisers - such was their determination to inconvenience Essex. Giles made 49 at a run a ball, with five fours and three sixes, before being last out.

Smith's 46 occupied only 59 balls and their partnership of 62 in nine overs was reminiscent of the Essex second innings. Of the last-day wickets, only Penney was dismissed playing defensively. On 14, Giles did benefit from one of the game's dozen or so dropped catches when Paul Grayson fumbled at third slip off Ashley Cowan, a 21-year-old seamer whose match figures were a worthy 5 for 71.

Williams, the new ball partner and 13 years his senior, returned 7 for 127 overall, which alongside the batting of Gooch, Prichard and Ronnie Irani was too potent for Warwickshire.