Cricket: Gooch leaves the mooching behind him

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The Independent Online
Essex . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .317-6


THERE WAS any amount of solid, long, drawn-out endeavour on view at The Oval, which tends to be the way of sides captained by Graham Gooch and Alec Stewart. Surrey put Essex in and took until 7.15 to complete the daily minimum of 110 overs.

While the over rate gave us a glimpse of eternity, both sides played as if all too mindful of Tuesday's Benson and Hedges results. Essex were thrashed by Worcestershire while Surrey contrived to make a present of their match to Lancashire. Now, it was as though the players on both sides were affected by self-doubt.

After being beaten three times in one over by Waqar Younis, who was distinctly sharp early on, Gooch hit the ball well square and through the covers without suggesting he is yet in form. His partner, John Stephenson, looked in need of a big innings before being leg before half-forward to Martin Bicknell.

Much the same could be said for the busy Paul Prichard until he drove at Graham Thorpe just before lunch and was caught behind. During the afternoon Salim Malik looked a fine player who is not in peak condition with the odd brilliant stroke intermingled with a fair amount of uncertainty. Gooch was third out at 162, caught behind pushing at Waqar, and then Salim, after a last, lovely off- drive, hooked high to long leg.

Nasser Hussain's great talent produced some delightful strokes through the covers and he looked as much in control as anyone until he padded up to one which Thorpe brought back into him. By then, like most of the others, he had done the hard work and had played himself in. It will be interesting to see if the fourth day will, as is hoped, have the effect of hardening concentration and preventing such lapses.

In the evening a productive partnership between Jonathan Lewis, whose unwavering concentration is one of his greatest assets, and Mike Garnham took Essex past 300 on a flat pitch. Garnham was well stumped by Graham Kersey from a clever piece of bowling, advancing down the pitch to Neil Kendrick who saw him coming and pushed the ball through quicker and well wide of the off stump.

Mushtaq Ahmed, the Pakistan leg- spinner, had a productive first day for Somerset at Taunton, scoring 24 out of his side's 195 then dismissing Lancashire's Gehan Mendis and Warren Hegg. Phil DeFreitas responded to his exclusion from England's Texaco Trophy squad with 7 for 76.