ESSEX were forced to postpone celebrating a successful defence of the County Championship yesterday when they met with an unexpected but vigorous wag of the Hampshire tail.
It was one which enabled the visitors to reach the close 116 runs ahead with two wickets remaining, but it will need a miracle, or intervention of the weather, to deprive Graham Gooch and his team of their sixth title crown in 14 seasons.
Yet an hour or so after lunch Essex were no doubt already getting out the champagne as they reduced their rivals to 63 for 6, still two short of avoiding an innings defeat. Tidy rather than venomous bowling played some part in Hampshire's demise, with Derek Pringle's nagging accuracy removing Kevan James and Tony Middleton in an 11-over spell costing as many runs.
But the major problems were self-inflicted. In between Pringle's successes, David Gower played the sort of stroke which has so exasperated others, even Gooch, over the years.
The situation demanded he get his head down but with characteristic carelessness he pulled Mark Ilott into the hands of Paul Prichard at mid-wicket. Gower, however, was not the only one at fault.
Robin Smith stepped forward to drive the off-spinner Peter Such, only to have his off-stump clipped, while Mark Nicholas looked totally stunned when he paid the penalty for rocking on the back foot in an attempt to force the left-arm spinner John Childs to mid-wicket. He missed and was bowled.
Fortunately, from Hampshire's point of view, some semblance of sanity was restored in the form of seventh- and eighth-wicket partnerships, both of which featured Adrian Aymes, whose efforts shamed some of his more illustrious colleagues.
The first was with Jonathan Ayling, producing 56, and the other with Shaun Udal yielded 53. They demonstrated what was possible with the right type of application. They defended resolutely as Gooch rang the bowling changes, but wasted no opportunity to drive, pull and cut the inviting delivery.
Ayling finally succumbed to Childs, driving into the hands of deep long-off, while Udal was superbly stumped down the leg side by Mike Garnham when the medium pace of John Stephenson was introduced into the attack for the first time. But Aymes was still resisting stoutly when deepening gloom forced the players off with half an hour remaining.Reuse content