Cricket: Essex incapable of confusing Reeve

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Essex . . . . . . . . . . . . 275-7 dec and forfeit

Warwickshire . . . . . . . . .forfeit and 204-7

Match drawn

AS BEFITS the county champions and present leaders, some Essex wins have a Harry Houdini touch, notably the one last month over Hampshire after following- on. Still, they could not winkle out Warwickshire, to the delight of everyone else in the table.

The trouble is that Essex were suddenly in danger of running away with the title, as three previous consecutive Championship wins and four in five games illustrated. Goochless they are at times, but toothless, never.

Essex have too many talented and versatile players for that and proved it. Mike Garnham's absence through a stomach bug prompted Nadeem Shahid to bowl the last over before lunch, Mark Waugh keeping wicket, with a direct reversal of roles immediately afterwards.

Even this did not confuse Dermot Reeve, whose unbeaten half-century guided Warwickshire to a draw. It was their only realistic target after struggling to 73 for 4 at the half-way point of what became a 66-over challenge to score 276.

Warwickshire, runners-up last summer, recall, to their chagrin, losing with 14 balls to spare to the ultimate champions at Chelmsford before May was out - a result with reverberating consequences four months later.

The damp pitch was slow and yielded runs obstinately, unless Andy Lloyd was bowling, but most of all, the time factor, with almost two days lost to the weather, allowed little room for manoeuvre.

Lloyd, Warwickshire's captain, offered runs on a silver platter in a clearly pre-arranged 'declaration deal' with Neil Foster, who was ironically the personal beneficiary. Foster thrashed 53 off 24 balls with eight fours and two sixes before being bowled by Lloyd. Jonathan Lewis scored 60 not out off 97 balls to confirm his county's high expectations.

Warwickshire's chasing qualities, or lack of them, have become infamous. Less than a month ago, Middlesex rolled them over at Coventry for 128 to win by 226 runs, but they showed more steel this time. Trevor Penney, a Zimbabwean newly qualified for England, added 64 in 10 overs with Reeve and Warwickshire's ambitions were ignited, albeit briefly.

Foster added Penney's wicket to those of Roger Twose and Andy Moles, and with 125 needed off the final 20 overs, Warwickshire had only four effective wickets intact. Paul Smith had suffered a ricked neck in a collision with Derek Pringle the previous day. Nasser Hussain, of Essex, was also absent after cracking a finger when being struck by Allan Donald, also in the Sunday match.

Reeve batted stubbornly and Donald stayed with him for the last two overs, fittingly because Donald had earlier bowled briskly. He took three for 40 as Essex laboured before relishing the cooperation of Lloyd.

Martin Bicknell, the pace bowler, spearheaded Surrey's third successive Championship victory when they defeated Glamorgan at Neath with nine balls to spare. Bicknell provided a thrilling finish by shattering the Glamorgan tail, taking four wickets in his final 11 deliveries to finish with 5 for 43.