Cricket: Essex respond to challenge: John Culley reports from Leicester

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The Independent Online
Leicestershire 193 and 230; Essex 75 and 103-0

IT IS unwise to write off Essex in any contest, even one in which they are bowled out for 75. Leicestershire, 153 ahead overnight and all wickets standing, were looking to put themselves in an unassailable position here yesterday. Instead, the champions bowled themselves back into contention as Leicestershire lost their last eight wickets for 160 runs and responded to the challenge of chasing 349 to win by scoring 103 without loss.

Neil Foster could not bowl because of knee trouble, which was another factor in Leicestershire's favour on a pitch that had lost much of the liveliness of Friday, when 20 wickets fell. In the afternoon, however, with cloud cover helping the ball swing in murky light and Leicestershire tending towards self-destruct, Steve Andrew (4 for 54) and Mark Waugh (3 for 44) served their limping captain well.

While Essex have been blazing a trail, winning six of their last nine Championship matches, Leicestershire have crept up rather more quietly. Nevertheless, 14th place to second in six weeks represents healthy progress for a county that began the summer as a candidate for the wooden spoon.

They would wish to shed the tag of also-rans almost as much as the reputation they had gained for failing to keep talented players such as Phillip DeFreitas and Chris Lewis. Yesterday Leicestershire announced that David Millns, their emerging player, had signed a contract that will keep him at Grace Road until 1997.

Millns is the biggest factor in Leicestershire's revival. He began the match as the country's leading wicket-taker and is being pushed as an England possible for the fifth Test. However, yesterday he failed to make an impact.

Neither did any other bowler, and Essex will enter the last day as strong favourites to extend the margin at the top of the table. The winning target does not faze a side with their experience and the assurance with which John Stephenson and Paul Prichard gave chase to a solid foundation is to be admired.

The match may have been won and lost in the afternoon, however, when Essex rediscovered their self-belief and Leicestershire lost their way. James Whitaker threatened something outstanding by reaching 40 with eight fours, but once Nigel Briers's steadfast 61 was ended by Foster's slip catch, Essex found wickets easy to acquire.