Cricket: Hussain and Irani point way forward

Worcestershire 308 & 25-0 Essex 303
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The Independent Online
IT WAS certainly belated, but yesterday Ronnie Irani, Nasser Hussain and Barry Hyam at last made a fist of their batting and tried to resurrect Essex's season.

The batting has let them down badly this summer. They have picked up maximum batting points on only four occasions, which is why they are now staring down into the chasm of Second Division cricket next year. They must garner every point from their remaining two games and, had it not been for Irani's fine hundred and Hyam's sensible and assured support play, they would not have the precious three that they did eventually manage yesterday.

Much had been expected of them, in particular of Stuart Law, but unfortunately their Australian troubleshooter was incapacitated early on in his innings when he essayed a cut comfortably into the hands of Richard Illingworth in the gully.

Co-ordination for the salvage operation fell squarely on the shoulders of Hussain and his able lieutenant, Irani. Hussain was in imperious mood, disdainfully dispatching the wild, the woolly, the wayward and the wide to all parts. Lunch was heralded by a veritable tattoo of boundaries on the perimeter boards as he cruised past fifty with plenty to spare.

Irani had also begun to open up as the interval approached. The pair had come together at the fall of the fourth wicket: the nightwatchman David Thompson had edged into double figures before becoming the first of Phil Newport's three victims. Paul Grayson scratched around like a lost chicken until Alamgir Sheriyar put him out of his misery and had him caught in the slips by Graeme Hick. He was followed by Law, looking settled until that loose shot.

That was their lot until after lunch, by which time Hussain and Irani had forged an 88-run partnership. Hussain then intemperately advanced on Illingworth with intent and was stumped by Steven Rhodes.

The out of touch Darren Robinson came and went, bringing Hyam out to join Irani. The wicketkeeper displayed great patience, biding his time and giving the floor to the England all-rounder. Irani, for his part, was a model of maturity as he alternated savage shots with resolute defence on the way to his fourth hundred of the season and the 13th of his first- class career.

There were two effortlessly struck sixes and a further 17 boundaries to his name by the time Irani drove extravagantly at the eager Duncan Catterall and was caught behind.

Essex still looked like nosing in front with Hyam approaching a half century. Then Sheriyar returned and whipped out Ricky Anderson and then Peter Such. It earned his side a first-innings lead of five and, despite his waywardness, took his tally this season to 90 wickets. That left Hyam stranded on 49, but Essex are at least competing.