Cricket: Ilott sinks Surrey

Surrey v Essex
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WITH THE current euphoria surrounding England's victory over Sri Lanka and the carnival of cricket that is to come, Essex and Surrey treated the few spectators present to a hard-fought war of attrition. This was cricket as it was meant to be, with every run begrudged, the ball swinging and occasionally keeping low, and batsmen having to work hard for runs. Or at least it was until the last hour of the afternoon session, when six Surrey wickets fell in 15 overs for only 62 runs.

And yet, in the morning Essex would have been disappointed to have added only 46 runs to their overnight total for the loss of their remaining five wickets. This although, on a grey, sunless day with conditions favouring the bowlers, it looked a reasonable total.

Forty minutes before tea, with Surrey struggling on 79 for 5, it looked positively huge and it could have become gargantuan if the dangerous Alistair Brown had been caught by Ian Flanagan at square leg off the excellent Mark Ilott. But the errant fielder was relieved when Ilott trapped Brown just before tea with the total only advanced to 116.

Brown is such a quick scorer that an hour or two of him can change the complexion of a game, and his dismissal gave Essex an opportunity to secure a sizeable first-innings advantage.

In truth, Essex were flattered by this sudden activity in the wickets column, but they stuck to the basics of bowling a good line and length. No one exemplified this more than Ilott, and he consistently swung the ball and, importantly, made the batsmen play, although Ashley Cowan was hindered by the top three all being left-handed.

Ian Ward started the well trodden path back to the pavilion by edging Ilott in the third over, Stuart Law diving low and to his right to cling on to a wonderful one-handed catch at second slip.

Then, Darren Bicknell, playing his first Championship match since September 1997, helped Mark Butcher steady any early innings nerves before skying an attempted lofted drive in Peter Such's first over of off-spin, Ronnie Irani completing a well judged catch at mid-off.

He missed all of last year due to injury and, with every ball now being recorded on video by Surrey for the players' benefit, he would not have enjoyed the viewing on his return to the dressing room. He needed to be quick, though, as there was a procession behind him desperate to get their hands on the rewind button.

A succession of poor foot movement and indiscriminate shot selection meant that, if the video of the afternoon's play was placed on general release, it would have an 18 certificate.