Cricket: Gooch rolls back the years

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The Independent Online
Lancashire 496 Essex 190-4

Anyone thinking that this summer might be the last post for Graham Gooch had a swift riposte. A chanceless century belied his 42nd year and illustrated his shambling walk after four hot sessions in the field was just a sham.

Gooch knows all about attrition after his years as England's captain. He soaked up Lancashire's, together with the sun, and made his 116th first-class hundred, one less than Sir Donald Bradman. It was effortless, efficient and, for Lancashire, exasperating after they attempted to bat Essex out of the match on a pitch likely to turn. By the time it does, Essex will be vaguely within range and more precious hours will have been consumed by first-innings batting. They still need 157 to avoid the follow-on.

This game is already bejewelled with individual performances. Michael Watkinson added a personal best 161 to an earlier hundred by Steve Titchard, his first for four years, following only one previous century. Mark Ilott also returned 5 for 86 to supplement match figures of 14 for 105 in a losing cause at Luton last week.

Watkinson and Titchard shared Lancashire's biggest fifth-wicket partnership, of 225, since Barry Wood and Andrew Kennedy set the county record, 249, at Edgbaston 20 years ago.

The dilemma is that Lancashire are banking on the pitch becoming a nest of vipers by Monday and they became obsessed with crease occupation. To see Watkinson refusing singles to retain the strike in a last-wicket stand with almost 500 on the board was a wanton waste of time, but a shrewd ploy. Lancashire, frankly, do not want to bat again.

It was ironic then, when Watkinson rejected a single the ball before he was bowled by Ilott. Watkinson's century was his ninth and his dismissal of Paul Prichard, his opposing captain, opened the hutch door, as they say in these parts.

Whether the lower order stay put depends mainly on the crusading influence of Gooch. Jason Gallian split a century opening partnership between Darren Robinson and Gooch, who strode along with the broadest of bats in this, his testimonial year.

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