Cricket: Hussain shows a leader's flair

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Sussex 281-3 Essex 285-3 Essex won by 7 wkts

IT HAS been a magnificently orchestrated campaign and at Hove yesterday Nasser Hussain completed it with a resounding flourish. Pre- election victory parties have been known to go belly-up before, of course, and the contest for the England captaincy remains neck and neck until the declaration of the result by the official tellers at Lord's on Tuesday morning. But whether Hussain wins or loses to Alec Stewart, apparently his sole remaining rival, the manner of his style on the hustings cannot be faulted.

In a series of interviews he has carefully outlined his desire to do the job and touched on the qualities he would bring to it. That achieved, he had a belated opportunity as stand-in captain of Essex to offer a practical demonstration. There is a slight difference between leading your county, on a temporary basis, in a Benson and Hedges Cup zonal tie against a Sussex side whose bowling still requires heavy-duty surgery and plotting the international collapse of South Africa this summer and Australia next winter, but in these matters you have to take what you can.

Essex won at a canter on a flat pitch which appeared to grow flatter and while Darren Robinson's second one-day century of the summer (and of his career) won him the Gold Award there could still be no mistaking that Hussain's significant contribution amounted to a last-ditch call to the only three voters who matter. From backward point in the morning he cajoled his men, marshalled his field, waved his arms and changed his bowlers.

He then accumulated a characteristically jaunty half-century at nearly a run a ball after the early, potentially debilitating loss of the Australian run-machine, Stuart Law. With Robinson he put on 153 in 155 balls and by the time he missed an adventurous drive at Paul Jarvis, Essex were a long way down the road to a convincing victory. By the Duckworth Lewis system, which would have been invoked had rain intervened at that moment, they were already some 20 runs ahead of the clock.

A couple more wickets then might have changed matters but Hussain, in common with everybody else, probably suspected that Sussex's chances of obtaining them were, on the most optimistic scale, slim. The target of 282 was impressive if hardly formidable, but tariffs in one-day cricket have risen. Essex won with seven balls to spare and, in truth, although their 285 for three was their highest score in the competition when batting second they could probably have done something similar chasing another 20 runs.

Robinson saw it through. He is 25 and has spent several seasons coming into the side for injuries and Test calls and then being jettisoned. The going of a certain veteran former England opener and captain has changed all that and he is now assured of an extended run. It is a trifle early for talk along the lines of: "Who was Graham Gooch?" but the power of Robinson's shots and his placement was none the less pleasing. His unbeaten 137 included 15 fours in its 168 balls and what he needs now is some Championship form.

Ronnie Irani kept pace with him during a third-wicket partnership of 89 and when Irani went it was all but over. Thus, Sussex, under their new leader, Chris Adams, still seek their first one-day victory of the season. They began well enough when the ball was moving in the morning. Adams himself was composed until the shot that got him out, charging down the pitch and driving to third man. Alex Edwards was bowled by the first ball from Paul Grayson who was then immediately taken off - Hussain's strategical cunning.

Michael Bevan, the Australian overseas player, then judged the innings beautifully with Keith Greenfield. Until that is he, too, was bowled by Grayson trying to cut. That was in the 45th over and had Bevan, full of fancy footwork and punishing strokes, stayed around as perhaps he should and on another day will, Sussex might have got some more. But even then it might have been too little. There was a match and an election campaign at stake.