SPARE a thought for Essex man. His girl has been a joke for years and, with too many days like yesterday, his cricket team is in danger of becoming one. Under a pale blue sky that would do a Clacton poster proud, their second-innings batting was swept away inside three hours by a Lancashire team bristling with aggression as they were beaten by an innings and 60 runs with a day to spare. It was Essex's first innings defeat at home since 1986.
Peter Martin and Glen Chapple, Lancashire's first bowlers, made the inroads, having Essex 31 for 5 after an opening blast of 13 overs before tea. John Stephenson, Jonathan Lewis and Nadeem Shahid were back in the pavilion within the space of eight deliveries before the end of the fourth over. And with just 10 runs on the board, the partisans were bemoaning the absence of Graham Gooch and the injured Paul Prichard. The pessimists were predicting defeat within easy distance of the close. Only a battling partnership of 67 between the left-handed Nick Knight, with 53, and the beleaguered Mike Garnham frustrated the visitors' victory bid to bring a few smiles to the faces of the Essex supporters.
They had not had much to smile about for most of the day, beginning with Garnham, their wicketkeeper, being helped from the field with blood flowing from a re-opened cut above his left eye. It was no fun, either, for his stand-in behind the stumps, Shahid. He gave lives to both of Lancashire's overnight batsmen, and he must have been relieved that neither Ian Austin nor Neil Fairbrother lasted long after his errors. Still, had he held on to Fairbrother's top edged mis-hook as it swirled down in the region of leg slip, he would have denied the left-hander his third Championship hundred in successive games.
After a quiet start, Fairbrother soon moved from his overnight 60 towards three figures with a brace of fours and sixes off consecutive balls. His swept six off John Childs had members taking cover as it rebounded from high up the pavilion wall. Fairbrother had just hit Mick Kasprowicz for his 13th and 14th fours off consecutive deliveries to reach 103 from 176 balls when the Australian plucked out his off stump.
With Warren Hegg entering into the six-hitting spirit, straight driving Peter Such towards the river before finally holing out attempting a reprise, Lancashire increased their lead to 198. Such bowled well for his four wickets, and Essex were always keen in the field. It was their lack of application with the bat that was so disappointing.
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