Cricket: Lewis sparkles to end five-year wait

Essex 252 and 2-0 Leicestershire 424
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The Independent Online
THEY CAN label Chris Lewis the `Enigma' but there was no mystery behind the hundred he took off Essex yesterday. It was down, purely and simply, to an obscene amount of talent. It was the sort of performance which makes a mockery of another label assigned to the all-rounder: `Former England player'. On this showing he could take apart any attack in the world, let alone a somewhat fragile Essex band.

Remarkably, given the outrageous gifts of this man when on song, it was Lewis's first hundred since 1994 and only the eighth of his career. It was well worth the wait, though. It was speckled with sparkling shots and he hardly missed a beat. The only glimmer of a chance - although Peter Such may prefer to call it something else - merely served to add injury to insult.

Lewis drove a screaming shot straight back at Such who had the misfortune to be in the way. He courageously attempted to hang on to the meteorite and finished up in hospital for precautionary X-rays. As it turned out there was no fracture, but plenty of pain and by then Lewis was up and running on 85.

That was the way of things for Essex as they tried - and most definitely failed - to fling a spanner in the works of the defending champions. This Leicestershire side is a masterpiece of engineering. The component parts seem to mesh perfectly every time they are started up. There was no better example than the sixth wicket partnership between Lewis and the superbly disciplined and able wicketkeeper Paul Nixon.

He had stuck around with his captain, James Whitaker, while the heat was taken out of the attack and the chill went from the early morning air and their stand of 67 did enough to loosen Essex's grip on affairs.

The disappointment of Whitaker falling when half a dozen short of 50 was soon forgotten as Nixon anchored an end content, like the crowd, to enjoy the Lewis show. He still reached a century himself - his second in consecutive Championship matches, albeit seven months apart, since he took 101 off Surrey in the final match last September.

It occupied more than five and a half hours and was the 11th of a career that deserves greater recognition than it so far has. He is without doubt one of the leading wicketkeeper-batsmen in the country along with Hampshire's Adrian Aymes and it is to be wondered just how much more either man has to do to attract selectorial attention.

Lewis on this form most certainly will. He may have missed out on a World Cup place but his two effortless sixes and 17 boundaries (the same number Nixon accrued) were the mark of a man who can do anything. He drove, cut, pulled, dabbed and clipped, the technique flawless, the athleticism and grace boundless. His timing was immaculate. When Lewis stops being an enigma and becomes a cricketer he is something else. So are Leicestershire. The chances of Essex wiping out the 172-run deficit and going on to win this match are long, far longer than those of Leicestershire retaining their title this year.