Cricket: Munton puts the skids under Essex: Warwickshire's openers build a big lead - Gloucestershire bowlers go on the rampage - Surrey grind their way past 500 mark

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Warwickshire 361 and 156-3

Essex 215

TIM MUNTON, the Midas man, has helped to turn Warwickshire's season into something as golden as the sun which has blessed it. As acting captain, Munton has led the county to two successive championship wins, with a third in the offing after he returned 6 for 89, his best figures of the summer.

Essex have been out-played, a word not usually associated with them. They avoided following on by four runs and were promptly dispatched to all parts by Roger Twose, who made 90 not out from 134 balls, and Andy Moles, before he was bowled off an inside edge by Ronnie Irani.

Warwickshire lead by 302, giving the impression that the opposing batsman were taking strike on different pitches. All the last six Essex wickets fell to Munton, who had a spell of 5 for 43 in 12 overs after lunch. It was his fifth return of five or more wickets in a championship innings this season.

Keith Piper took three catches off Munton's bowling and his seven in an innings was a Warwickshire record. Piper also equalled the most dismissals in an innings by a Warwickshire wicketkeeper. This accolade testified not only to Piper's athleticism, notably when diving low to his right to dismiss Nasser Hussain, a half- century maker, but to the variable bounce of a dry pitch, likely to conspire with the spinners.

Warwickshire's fifth century opening stand of the season, this time between Moles and Twose, simply compounded the problems encountered by Essex. Brian Lara was leg before cheaply to Irani, but the departure of Dominic Ostler, caught at slip from a John Childs delivery which bounced and turned, offered Essex cold comfort and potentially the shape of things to follow today.

Their batting first time around had been unconvincing, with the honourable exceptions of Nick Knight, who made a first championship half century for two years from 91 balls, and Hussain.

With five wickets in hand and 34 needed to reach the sanctuary of making Warwickshire bat again, Essex had the nightmare collapse usually reserved for less equipped teams. It began when Irani skied Munton to mid-on and gathered momentum when Hussain, Mike Kasprowicz and Steve Andrew were all caught at the wicket.

Mike Garnham's resilience saved the follow-on as he clipped Munton away to the square leg boundary immediately before Childs, the last man, was caught at second slip.

Graeme Welch supported Munton admirably, just as Piper did, to bring Warwickshire almost as luxurious a position as that of Surrey at Trent Bridge. Full bonus points also kept them four behind the leaders with a game in hand.

Essex have made a habit of assembling formidable fourth-innings totals to win championship matches when Graham Gooch has been present. Without him, the prospect of attaining something in the region of 400 looks highly improbable, especially on this pitch.