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Cricket: Essex hold on in hope

Worcs 308 and 365-4 dec Essex 303 and 265-4 Match drawn
AFTER A baking day at Chelmsford ended in stalemate, having hinted at possible victory for either side, one thing was clear - Worcestershire, with Glenn McGrath their overseas player, will be in the Championship's second division next year.

Essex could still make the upper echelon if they beat Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge in the final round, but they will need some third-party assistance as well to be sure of that goal. The two-division structure has surely achieved its initial object, which was to give spice to such autumnal down-the-table encounters as this.

The game had been perfectly poised at the halfway mark, but on Friday Graeme Hick bullied a second century from a flat track and declared overnight, leaving Essex to swelter out 371 runs. So cautious were they that Paul Grayson took 26 balls to get off the mark, a boundary that ended a 54- ball period without a run of any kind.

The Essex cause was assisted by Worcestershire's sole bowler of genuine pace, Alamgir Sheriyar, whose run-up seemed inhibited only by the modest size of the Chelmsford ground. Having received a warning in each innings about following through on to the wicket, he was then banished from the attack by the umpire David Constant when he again transgressed.

The Essex openers soon changed gear and prospered until after lunch, when Paul Prichard bat-and-padded a teasing ball from Hick. Nasser Hussain took charge of what was now an attainable five-an-over chase. But the introduction of Duncan Catterall immediately after lunch prompted the fall of three wickets in 22 balls - Hussain resentfully caught behind, Grayson driving after an enterprising century, and Stuart Law flashing lazily. The Essex impetus faded, and now it was down to Worcestershire to winkle out six stubborn wickets.

With a minimum of five overs remaining, Hick accepted that Worcestershire now had no hope of making the first division, and the formalities ended.