WHILE the end result made this a highly satisfactory day for Essex, a slow, suffocating pitch made it frustrating for batsmen and less than exciting for spectators. Strokeplay was difficult, not to say dangerous, after Hampshire had won the toss and batted.
Essex have therefore picked up four of the 22 points they need to make sure of their sixth Championship title in 14 years. They are in such irrepressible form at the moment that it seems almost inevitable, weather permitting, that Keith Fletcher's last home match as Essex's guiding light will see the job completed.
The ball did not come on to the bat, only the full half-volley could be safely driven, and all day the batsmen were mistiming their strokes. The first 10 overs set the tone when Tony Middleton and Kevan James scored only six runs against accurate bowling from Mark Ilott and Derek Pringle.
Things improved but not by much, although just before lunch there was a colourful flurry from David Gower which was as irritating as it was glorious before it ended in gorgeous irony. He drove his first ball, from Don Topley, through the covers for two with an implied impatience which seemed to ask what all the fuss was about.
Some unhurried elegant singles followed and then came a lovely flowing off-drive for four against Topley. But on this pitch, one sensed it could not last. He waved at Ilott outside the off stump and edged the ball over the slips for four. He drove at the next one which flew off a thicker edge past third slip for four more, and then he picked up the ball after that to deposit it over backward square leg for six.
By then, Graham Gooch had brought himself on to bowl at the Town end and now ran in with that pronounced waddle of his to bowl his third over. Gower drove at one which was not quite up to him and Paul Prichard accepted the catch at cover. The battle of the literary giants thus concluded, Gooch withdrew himself from the attack.
The first wicket had fallen in the 21st over when James played on trying to leave a ball from Topley. In the over after Gower was out, Middleton, who had batted 32 overs for 17, played an ugly looking cut at Ilott and was caught behind.
After that, Robin Smith, Mark Nicholas, Jonathan Ayling and Malcolm Marshall all perished playing strokes against spinners who are already finding plenty of slow turn. The fact that a strokemaker such as Marshall had occupied the crease for 30 overs while making 39 just about summed it all up.
David Smith was dropped by Sussex yesterday for the game with Glamorgan at Cardiff as a disciplinary measure following a dressing-room incident during the Sunday League match against Kent at Canterbury.
Yorkshire's solid start,
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