Cricket: Law secures Essex triumph

Warwickshire 170-8; Essex 171-1 Essex win by nine wickets
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The Independent Online
Two non-events in successive years may not be the ideal way to sell your premier one-day competition to the public, but only supporters of Warwickshire will be complaining. With more than a quarter of the match's overs unbowled Essex strolled home to the ecstatic acclaim of their supporters, their first-ever trophy without the omnipresent Graham Gooch.

It was slaughter, pure and simple. Predictably, Stuart Law, Essex's abrasive Australian, was at the heart of it, scoring an unbeaten 80 from 71 balls, after Essex's seam bowlers had dominated the early proceedings, when conditions were at their most bowler-friendly.

What a difference a year makes. This time 12 months ago, Law was absent on international duty and Essex duly found out the meaning of abject humiliation. Chasing Lancashire's moderate target of 186, they capitulated to 57 all out. Even with Essex's capacity for turning romps into nail-biters and vice versa, it was a clear case of turning the ridiculous into the sublime.

For the players, last year's debacle provided memories so painful that the scars were still visible until tea yesterday. Only then did they know that the NatWest Trophy was theirs at last, their first one-day trophy since the NatWest and Sunday League double in 1985.

It was a victory that came through a combination of fine bowling and ultra-aggressive batting, an approach that saw their captain, Paul Prichard (57 from 45 balls), keeping pace with Law.

However, perhaps Prichard's greatest asset was to have won the toss on a relaid pitch, a surface that offered occasionally alarming assistance to his pace bowlers, who kept a full and testing length on a cool grey September morning.

If there is a case for reducing the number of overs and holding this match earlier in the season, then this was it. The pitch, though never a belter, eased substantially in the afternoon once the sun came out and evaporated the early autumn sap.

Law, as he has done all season, struck the ball with ferocious, but unforced, power. He is, as Graham Gooch maintained a few days ago, worth the price of admission on his own and his savage riposte, which included 10 fours and a six, comfortably won him the Man of the Match award.

After Essex's electric start that saw the fifty up in only the sixth over - a milestone that took the opposition 25 overs to reach - Warwickshire were never in with a chance.

Forced to take the ball in the sixth over, far earlier than he would have liked, Allan Donald was treated with regal disdain by both Law and Prichard. His six overs cost 36 runs and his only consolation was the wicket of Prichard, lbw to one that nipped back sharply to the right-hander.

That success apart the Midlanders rarely looked like making a game of it, although had three difficult half-chances not gone to ground they might have forced Essex to abandon their gung-ho approach.

Indeed, it was Warwickshire, consigned to bat first, who were forced to change their normally aggressive approach, particularly after Nick Knight was out lbw, padding up to the third ball of the match.

With the ball moving extravagantly under leaden skies few dared to attempt the power hitting of their earlier games. Neil Smith, the Warwickshire captain and a rustic version of Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya, was rendered almost strokeless for nearly seven overs before his patience got the better of him and he edged an outswinger from Ashley Cowans to the wicketkeeper.

Cowans, a tall 22-year-old opening bowler, kept a full length and was rewarded with the impressive figures of 3 for 29. His ability to both swing the ball and get bounce is a handy asset to have and his performance here may have convinced the three wise men that he deserves his chance to go on England's tour of the West Indies next January.

If the capricious conditions made batting something of a lottery though - far more balls passed the bat's edge than hit the middle - the demise of David Hemp, Warwickshire's star batsman of the previous two rounds, was nothing short of doltish.

Having stroked his way to 21, Hemp found himself being called through for a quick but entirely fictitious single to short extra cover by his partner, Dominic Ostler. It was a journey he did not survive as Paul Grayson's underarm throw from close range found timber. Later, he sent in an inch- perfect return coming in from the boundary at square leg to run out Ashley Giles as he dawdled taking a second run.

Realising the enormity of his error, Ostler settled down to play the anchor, a role he then handed to Dougie Brown (37) after skying Ronnie Irani to Danny Law at midwicket for 34.

In many ways Irani's return of 1 for 22 from his 12 overs epitomised the Essex effort. Having torn a rib muscle in the semi-final three and a half weeks ago, Irani was given little chance of being fit. Undeterred, he hauled himself twice weekly to Munich to see a specialist who has treated, among others, Jose Maria Olazabal and Jurgen Klinsmann. It was a gamble that paid off, a gutsy effort with which to cap Essex's return to the big time.