Cricket: In-form Smith finds way through

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Gloucestershire were made to work for their wickets at Bristol yesterday as they fought for the win they needed in the race for the Championship. The Nottinghamshire openers, Tim Robinson and Mathew Dowman, and the wicketkeeper, Wayne Noon, all hit half-centuries, as they reached 255 for 8.

David "Syd" Lawrence, in his latest bid to recover from horrendous knee injuries of five years ago, overcame his early struggle for match fitness with some sharp balls which cost him 37 runs in three spells totalling just 12 overs. But it was his opening partner, Mike Smith, who made the breakthrough for Gloucestershire with a burst of three wickets for 17 runs in 30 deliveries in the afternoon. Dowman (52) and Robinson (56) put on 101 for the first wicket on a pitch that provided little bounce, despite its grassy appearance.

They looked secure enough for another hundred, but then Dowman was held at short midwicket off an optimistic hook at Mark Alleyne's medium pace. It began a mid-innings collapse, and Notts soon fell away to 148 for 6, as the pitch began to dry out and batting became difficult for an hour or so.

Smith found movement trapping Nathan Astle and Ashley Metcalfe leg before and seeing Robinson touch a catch through to the wicketkeeper, Jack Russell. But, as the wicket eased again a watchful Usman Afzaal (23) and Noon put on 78 for the seventh wicket.

They were together for 29 overs until Afzaal was picked up at slip, bringing Smith his fourth wicket. Noon fell to a catch at the wicket for 60, and Nottinghamshire ended the first day with a respectable total on the board from their 84 overs.

There was good news for Gloucestershire, however, from Grace Road where the Championship leaders, Glamorgan, were left kicking their heels as the first day of their game against Leicestershire was completely washed out.

Nasser Hussain led Essex into a Championship match for the first time after Paul Prichard dropped out of the match with Warwickshire. But the England batsman made only 21 batting at No 3 before he was trapped leg before by Dougie Brown.

Rain restricted play to just 35 overs and in this time Essex advanced to 107 for 3 with Stuart Law looking in ominous form while making an unbeaten 30. The other two wickets to fall, those of the openers, Tim Hodgson and Darren Robinson, were both claimed by Graeme Welch. Hodgson was caught behind for 12 while Robinson scored 38 before chipping a simple catch to Allan Donald at short midwicket.

Sussex's batsman Neil Lenham has been forced to retire from first-class cricket due to a persistent foot injury. The 32-year-old, who made his Sussex debut in 1984 and was capped six years later, has played in only six Championship matches this season.