Cricket / County Championship: Ebullient Mushtaq

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Somerset . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .202

Essex . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .73-1

LIFE at the top of the Championship tree is not something Somerset have grown accustomed to during their 118-year history, which presumably explains why they hung on so defiantly yesterday. This was no grim resistance either, but then nothing Mushtaq Ahmed does can ever be described as such. But for the Pakistani's ebullient 71, Essex would be even better placed to force their first win of the summer.

Having opted to bowl first under an accommodatingly miserable blanket of cloud, Paul Prichard was doubtless a mite peeved to learn of Mark Ilott's exclusion at Old Trafford. After all, a new Test and County Cricket Board dispensation would have permitted Essex to start with 10 men and draft in the left-armer as soon as he drove off the A12. This was all quickly forgotten, however, since the seam quartet were in such harmony with the conditions that they claimed the first seven wickets for 98.

Mark Lathwell was his usual effusive self, biffing off the back foot through covers and slips with equal alacrity to reel off seven boundaries in an assured 48 before Don Topley trapped him shuffling across his crease. By then Somerset, whose batting runs their bowling a very poor second, were staggering around like men who had downed too much scrumpy.

Andy Hayhurst had become the first of Mike Garnham's five victims when Neil Foster swung one away in the ninth over, Richard Harden and Chris Tavare following suit against Steve Andrew before Nick Folland edged a lavish drive off Foster on the stroke of lunch. Graham Rose slashed an Andrew half-volley to cover and when Neil Burns was caught behind pushing at Derek Pringle, the uppity bumpkins seemed to be paying for hubris.

The mood of subjugation altered abruptly as Mushtaq collected 11 fours and a six to move within four of a career best before John Childs induced a skyer to mid-off. By now the pitch had eased considerably and the comfort with which Prichard and John Stephenson repelled the new ball suggested Somerset may soon be feeling even more vertiginous.