Cricket: Lathwell's vain heroics

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The Independent Online
Somerset 202 and 197 Essex 265 and 136-3

Essex win by 7 wickets

LIKENING Mark Lathwell to David Gower, highly tempting given that both batsmen are free spirits, is no more than crass pigeon-holing. On yesterday's heroic evidence, the icon who has most in common with the Somerset Smiter is that similarly plucky Roman opener, Horatius.

The last remaining barrier between Essex and their first Championship win of the season, Lathwell manned the bridge with such bristling defiance that, by the time he was caught a foot inside the long-on rope attempting his third six in five balls, he had scored 132 out of the 177 runs to emanate from the bat during his exhilarating tenure.

Essex folk do not normally take too kindly to such audacity by the opposition, yet the standing ovation was as effusive as it was deserved. There will doubtless be many more before he is done.

A fidgeter, Lathwell is sometimes felt to have a weakness outside off-stump, though there were precious few signs of such an Achilles' heel here.

Resuming on 46, with Somerset already six wickets down and a mere 25 runs on, he marched to his first century of the summer with confident aplomb, punching shots either side of the wicket with a rugged contempt more redolent of Gatting than Gower.

Of the 98 runs which the team added off the bat, 86 carried his stamp. The statistics, for once, told the truth.

Neil Mallender played a manful part in a seventh-wicket stand of 38, the highest of the innings to that point, before becoming Neil Foster's fifth victim, due reward for a spell of 29 overs broken only by the need for sleep.

Mushtaq Ahmed failed to repeat his first-innings assault, departing less than graciously to one of those bat-pad decisions he himself has so often benefited from. Thereafter, Jason Kerr burnished his growing reputation by sealing up one end while Lathwell went to town, and donating seven to a ninth-wicket liaison worth 69.

For all that, the target facing Essex was no more than 135. Had Andy Caddick been present, the psychological shift might have inspired Somerset to emulate their comeback against Lancashire. Yet Essex appeared intent on using up all five sessions, Kerr having Paul Prichard held at midwicket and John Stephenson taking 14 overs to disturb the scorers. The contrast to the morning could scarcely have been starker.

Lathwell and his amiable seamers emerged from the wings during the final act, but two miracles in one day are beyond even his considerable scope.