Cricket: Essex led to last-ball triumph by Gooch: Masterful display

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Worcestershire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .381 and 285-3 dec

Essex. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .262 and 405-6

Essex won by four wickets

THERE are any number of reasons why the Championship pennant has flown over the Chelmsford pavilion five times in the last 11 seasons, but two of the higher ones on the list are Essex's remarkable knack for turning lost causes on their head, and an even more remarkable cricketer who continues to make a nonsense of his public image as a weary old fossil one step away from a sponsored bathchair.

'Not bad for an old 'un' is about as effusive a reaction as you will ever drag from Graham Gooch, but he is privately proud of his ability to excel in a younger man's game and his outstanding performance in the improbable last-ball victory that took Essex to the top of the table here yesterday will have given him almost as much pleasure as any in his 22 years as a professional.

Gooch, with 101 and 205, joined a list of only five other batsmen who have made two centuries in the same first class match on five or more occasions, and became the first Englishman to 1,000 runs this season in only his 10th innings. Essex's 405 for 6 was only the 11th time in Championship history that a side has made over 400 to win batting last. To emphasise that Essex scarcely have it in them to lie down and die, they have done it in each of the last three seasons.

What made this one scarcely believable was the fact the pitch rarely behaved over the entire four days and was responsible for Essex being without Paul Prichard with a broken thumb when they set off for victory late on Saturday.

Yesterday morning, the target was 390 and when the first ball of the day from Phil Newport to Gooch scuttled all along the ground, Essex's task looked a good deal more out of reach than that of the Kidderminster beekeeper summoned to capture a swarm that had taken up residence in a tree alongside the ladies' pavilion.

Initially, the bees (and not least how they had managed to get past the Worcester gatemen) were more of a talking point than the cricket, although it eventually began to dawn on the crowd that not only were Worcestershire not taking many wickets, but that Essex were well in touch with an asking rate of four an over.

At lunch, they were 112 for 1 and although Jonathan Lewis and Nasser Hussain were out shortly afterwards, one of Essex's other talents - plucking under-achievers from other counties and turning them into apparent veterans overnight - played a critical role.

Before joining Essex this season, Ronnie Irani had played only nine matches in four years with Lancashire and had a top score of 44. Yesterday, with an average of over 50 already in the Championship this season, he scored his maiden century, and his fourth-wicket partnership with Gooch realised 245.

However, just when it seemed they had taken Essex to a comfortable win, Gooch (287 balls) smashed a catch to extra cover and Irani was leg before slogging as three wickets fell between 378 and 390. By this time, Worcestershire's deportment had long ceased to uphold the spirit of the game, Richard Illingworth bowling negative over-the-wicket rubbish into the leg-stump rough, Stuart Lampitt bowling unreachable bouncers, and Stephen Rhodes upsetting Irani with a few off-putting asides from behind the stumps.

Justice, happily, was done. With nine runs required off the final over from Newport, Nadeem Shahid hit the first for four and four singles brought the scores level. Shahid hit the last ball into the offside and, with Michael Kasprowicz arriving in the crease almost simultaneously, just got home in a desperate scramble to the other end.

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