Cricket: Knight shines as Essex march on

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The Independent Online
Middlesex 273 and 185-3 dec

Essex 204-8 dec and 255-2

Essex win by 8 wickets

AN audacious partnership of 152 in 35 overs between Nick Knight, who scored a career-best 109 and Mark Waugh, at full power, carried Essex to an exciting and extraordinary victory - their third in succession - with an over to spare after being set 255 in what became 43 overs.

Knight, batting against three Test bowlers and opening the innings, suggested a more than ordinary talent. Waugh, once set, was uncontainable. Middlesex will be deeply disappointed that their bowlers were unable to stem the flow on a pitch they found nowhere near as helpful as on Wednesday. But champions have a habit of making pitches suit their requirements.

The light was so poor for most of the three days that a set of mobile floodlights, one preferably near the press tent to go with the mobile Essex scoreboard, would have been appropriate. The sun actually peeped through as Essex began the last 20 overs seeking another 139 - a tall order but they did have nine wickets standing.

Mike Gatting must have been hoping his spinners would be as controlling and penetrative as they were in the first innings but Paul Prichard and Knight refused to let them settle and after they had been scorched for 22 in two overs first John Emburey and then Philip Tufnell gave way to the seam bowlers. Prichard had a captain's luck - being missed at slip at six and 23, both off Chas Taylor, before one eventually stuck - but not before the opening stand had given Essex 71 off the first 14 overs.

Two overs into the last 20 and Gatting switched tactics again, recalling the spinners and although Waugh sent Emburey soaring towards Gants Hill Underground the risks doubled with the temptations. But by then Essex had won the luck of the brave: the ball was lifted but never quite to hand, a possible stumping turned into four byes, the ball rattled around a bumpy outfield leaving sore hands and feet, and if a fielder hit the stumps there was an overthrow. Gatting's face grew blacker, Tufnell became more exasperated and while the sky darkened Essex finished lit up. Only another 22 from six overs were needed when Knight (115 balls, 12 fours) was bowled.

In the morning Essex had added another 30 runs in 13 overs, both sides taking another bonus point, before Prichard declared 69 runs behind. The word from the dressing room was that an agreement had been hard to come by. It will be even more difficult the next time these two sides meet.

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