Cricket: Gooch gets the better of negative Sussex

COUNTY CHAMPIONSHIP: Challengers held at bay as Essex, Derbyshire and Surrey are all obliged to work hard
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Sussex 363 and 2-0 Essex 360

In the Victorian era, it would have been considered unsporting play. In the win or bust 1990s, however, Sussex's negative tactics were perfect for tempting an impatient Essex into indiscretion on a flat pitch.

But although a late wag of the tail still managed to keep their hopes alive, by eking out four batting points, trying to salvage something from this trying season will probably prove harder than raising the Titanic, unless they can bowl Sussex out by today's close.

To control this match, Essex needed runs and needed them quickly. For they, even with Stuart Law back in town, would not want a long chase on this dry pitch; cannily programmed to start decaying over the last four sessions of play.

They started well too, a brisk opening 50 partnership that was virtually all Gooch. A timeless vintage that saw all the Sussex pacemen suffer that most insidious of insults; the straight drive that cracks into the boundary boards just moments after it has been released.

Gooch has been in a rakish mood of late: the presence in his parking spot of a racing green MG proof that he is clearly taking bachelorhood as seriously as his batting.

He is the leading run-scorer in the country, and yesterday's faultless 82 took his season's aggregate to 1,708, a clear head in front of his nearest rivals for the Whyte and Mackay batting rankings.

In fact, singles were the rarer of the run-scoring species until Ian Salisbury came on to bowl, his round-the-wicket stodge into the rough, forcing batsmen to inelegantly thrust their front pads at the exploding puffs of dust. A misjudgement of just such a method saw Paul Grayson adjudged leg before, the batsman mesmerised into kicking away a full toss.

Salisbury's sortie may have slowed Essex's four run an over start, but the batsmen rarely looked in trouble. Only a rash swish by Nasser Hussain - which gave Vasbert Drakes his only success - tempted Sussex into recalling their boundary sweepers.

However, it proved a temporary measure as Stuart Law, complete with a rasping Colombo cough and silky backfoot drives, matched Gooch, who was eventually caught and bowled by Sussex's bustling 21-year-old pace man, James Kirtley.

This was only Kirtley's fifth Championship match, and he was rightly enthusiastic as a result. He has an action that contains elements from two of Sussex's senior bowlers, Paul Jarvis and Ed Giddins, being both whippy and open chested.

His 4 for 94 from 23 overs was not classic fast bowling, but he has enough pace to hurry the best and it was his dismissal of Ronnie Irani, 20 minutes after Law had driven Nicky Phillips's off-spin carelessly to mid-off, that left Essex contemplating a heavy first-innings deficit. In the end there were just three runs in it, as first Robert Rollins and then Ashley Cowan thumped their way to a fourth batting point.

A single handicap golfer, Cowan hit both Kirtley and Phillips for big sixes, the second landing plumb in the middle of Chelmsford's premier water hazard: the river Chelmer.

If he and Such can hit the targets at either end of a dry pitch today, Essex may still be in need of a duster and some silver polish.