Cricket: Essex's slow labour

Middlesex 113 & 45-1 Essex 429
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The Independent Online
IT WAS said the cricket was so dull because the Southend week is always a happy and vibrant occasion and deserves better. Essex, who started the day at 166 for 3 in reply to Middlesex's 113, batted on and on until their lead had reached 316.

This was a good example of work expanding to fill the time allotted. If this had been a three-day game, Essex would have had to get on with it if they were to have time to win.

One of the main benefits, we were told, that will accrue from four-day matches was that middle-order batsmen would learn to play big innings. This would leave them better able to make telling contributions when it came to Test cricket.

None of this happened at Southend. Nasser Hussain plodded on for 281 minutes and 246 balls for the first 99 of his career before playing Phil Tufnell on to his own stumps. Ronnie Irani reached 70 in 227 minutes from 212 balls before edging Angus Fraser to first slip. Stephen Peters occupied the crease for 84 balls while making 26, Barry Hyam took 94 balls for his 47 and, at the end, Ashley Cowan was 52 not out from 94 balls.

The point is that they all established themselves and yet no one was able to go on in amiable conditions. How much more enjoyable it would have been if this had been a three-day affair, not least because Southend's week would then have had two three-day matches and a Sunday game which would have meant two more days' cricket for an excellent crowd.

Middlesex then had time for 14 overs. This time Ben Hutton did not survive the new ball and, to his great annoyance, was caught at second slip playing a loose drive at Irani. The day was then seen out by the two left-handers, Andrew Strauss and Justin Langer.

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