Cricket: Irani sweep reverses Essex's fortunes

Middlesex 488-2 & forfeit Essex 151-3 dec & 315-9 Match drawn
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The Independent Online
IF MARK Ilott and Peter Such cry off Essex's next Championship match, it will almost certainly be due to a stress-related illness after what Ronnie Irani subjected them to in the gathering gloom yesterday evening. One moment of madness and everything they had all worked towards went out of the window.

There were a paltry 24 runs wanted for what would have been a thrilling victory and 25 balls in which to get them when Irani, with a century to his name, suddenly and inexplicably decided to attempt a reverse sweep.

Perhaps he had been unsettled by the loss one ball earlier of Ashley Cowan. Whatever the reason, he paid for such profligacy and was bowled. It left the delighted bowler Paul Weekes on a hat-trick and the last man in, Such, with a tricky spell to survive. That he and Ilott hung in there surrounded by voracious fielders was poor consolation, because victory had been there for the taking.

Irani's second hundred in successive matches - his previous one had helped beat Somerset - was uncharacteristically sedate (229 balls with just one six and three fours), and he twice found himself playing second fiddle in a couple of partnerships, first with Stephen Peters, then with Danny Law, who certainly helped swing things Essex's way with a knock of 62 at virtually a run a ball, with the help of five sixes, four of them off Weekes. He and Irani piled up 104 for the seventh wicket. Then it all went wrong.

As expected Middlesex had forfeited their second innings, leaving Essex the whole day and what turned out to be 106 overs from which to conjure the 338 runs needed for victory. That had looked a pretty forlorn hope when, in the ninth over, with just five runs knocked off the target, Essex lost their second wicket, Angus Fraser having accounted for the openers, Paul Prichard and Darren Robinson.

When Paul Grayson was bowled by the pacey Tim Bloomfield, having scratched around for more than an hour for three runs, the Essex run chase was in retreat at 31 for 3. It needed their other lawman to marshall the resistance and the Australian Stuart Law did just that in a 57-run stand for the fourth wicket after being joined by Irani. As befits a player of Law's quality, it needed a high-class effort from Jamie Hewitt running back from wide mid-on before sprawling to take a fine catch.

The stream of class continued to flow from Essex, though, and Peters underlined his potential with a fine half-century as he dominated an 84- run partnership with Irani. There was a touch of symmetry to his departure, the youngest player on either side at 19 by a couple of months from Owais Shah, Peters was snapped up at slip by the oldest - Mike Gatting.