Cricket; Irani's new maturity is decisive

Lancashire 188-8: Essex 190-7 Essex win by three wickets
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The Independent Online
IT BEGINS to look as if any day of the week is liable to attract the attention of the Axa League. In the space of eight days the competition has taken one from Lord's on Sunday, to Worcester on Tuesday and now, on Monday, to Chelmsford where the weather was good, the crowd excellent and the cricket well up to standard for these occasions.

The ball darted about off the seam and the pitch had some pace which accounts for the relatively modest scoring. The match-winning innings of 95 not out was played by Ronnie Irani, a former Lancashire player himself, who came in when Essex were 31 for 3 in the 10th over.

With Paul Grayson, he gave the innings a new base before using his long reach to produce a series of pulverising drives, most of which went straight down the ground. It was a more responsible innings than many one has seen him play.

Irani lost Grayson at 82 when he was bowled coming down the pitch to drive. Danny Law then made a useful contribution before slicing a drive to backward point.

Irani who had earlier taken four wickets for the first time in this competition, never lost his head. His 50 came from 58 balls with four fours and he celebrated by straight driving Gary Yates out of the ground for six.

Two more wickets fell while the last 17 runs were scored but Irani was always in control and finished things with a lovely skimming straight drive off Glenn Chapple.

Earlier, the Lancashire innings had revolved around Mike Atherton, who was at his most composed even if a trifle too slow for a 40-over match. Otherwise, John Crawley and Neil Fairbrother both struck the ball well for a time.

Irani, whose bowling has, according to the Essex-minded, greatly improved, showed excellent control and, on this curious Sunday on a Monday occasion, he looked a more mature cricketer.

l England's winter planning has been hit by problems over a proposed A team tour. A trip to South Africa was planned for the autumn but England have been told that the South Africans are struggling to host the tour. A second option, to go to the West Indies, is also proving difficult to arrange. Bob Bennett, the chairman of the England committee, said yesterday: "We are still in negotiations, but there may not be an A tour this winter. And, if we can't organise a worthwhile tour, there would be little point in it."