Cricket: Ilott swings the balance for Essex

Warwickshire 291 & 86 Essex 191 & 168-3 Essex win by 7 wickets
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IT IS two years to the month since Essex last won here. Graham Gooch was still a feature in the side then, so yesterday's achievement was commendable if only for ending such a barren spell at county headquarters.

Mark Ilott, the left-arm paceman, did most of the damage with some fine swing bowling. When he was not getting the ball to move in to the right handers (at times prodigiously), then he got it to leave them late. And by the time he had finished with them, a target of 167 (and five full sessions in which to get them) did not look too daunting.

No one was going to take anything for granted though, not after the capitulation against Leicestershire a fortnight ago. Those forebodings were borne out with the premature departure of the opener Darren Robinson, who was beaten on the back foot by Ed Giddins and taken low down by Nick Knight at slip.

Paul Prichard and Nasser Hussain, captain past and present, kept their heads and their wickets and compiled a century partnership, slowly at first but gradually quickening the tempo with hard hit boundaries, delicate cuts and fine glances. Hussain, leading Essex in the Championship for the first time this season, looked in particularly good nick, his placement perfect and the timing, like Prichard's, pretty damn good.

The pair reached their fifties within an over of each other, Prichard first, off 95 balls, Hussain's a more aggressive 81-ball knock with nine boundaries to his partner's half dozen. Shortly after Prichard departed, caught behind attempting to cut an Ashley Giles delivery. Hussain followed seven overs later, albeit reluctantly, when he was caught by Knight at slip. By the time he went, all the hard work had been done and the remaining 30 runs were polished off by Stuart Law and Ronnie Irani.

It was quite a contrast with their opponents' batting. Warwickshire may not have covered themselves in glory first time around - at one point they were struggling at 84 for 6 - but their second innings was definitely one to forget as they floundered their way to the lowest Championship score of the season.

It was actually Ashley Cowan who started the rot after Warwickshire resumed on their overnight 14 for 2. Off the first ball of Cowan's fourth over of the morning, Mark Wagh drove loosely to Irani at wide mid-off. The last ball of it accounted for David Hemp, when the left-hander looked to work the ball to the on side and lost his leg stump.

It set a brief trend because when Ilott finally struck he had the wicketkeeper Tony Frost obligingly shouldering arms to one that swung in and uprooted his off stump, and in the same over Dougie Brown was rapped conclusively on the pads when half-forward.

Trevor Penney edged behind and Warwickshire's captain, Neil Smith, had a big waft to give Ilott his final figures of 6 for 38. Ronnie Irani had already found the edge of Giles' bat and when Graeme Welch nicked another Irani delivery to Robinson at second slip even Essex looked capable of getting the runs. They duly did with a day and 25 overs to spare.