Cricket: Natwest Trophy / Twilight delight for Essex: Garnham undoes Lancashire - Parker lifts Durham - Northamptonshire excel - Holders stutter at dress rehearsal

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The Independent Online
Lancashire 318-8; Essex 319-9

Essex win by one wicket

AFTER this, Graham Gooch will probably feel that miracles do happen. Needing to score more runs to win than any county has ever managed in 60-over play, Essex achieved their unlikely victory here yesterday with a ball to spare amid frenzied scenes.

The man of the hour was Mike Garnham, the only possible contender for the man-of-the-match award, whose breathless, unbeaten 53 from 37 balls dragged his side from the edge of oblivion after a mid-innings collapse had left them requiring 91 from 10 overs with two wickets standing.

Assisted by Don Topley, the pugnacious wicketkeeper raised 54 in six overs as five light bulbs glared from the scoreboard. However, when Graham Lloyd's direct hit from point ran out Topley with 37 still needed, it seemed as if these were merely the last gasps of a long-doomed patient, since the last man was John Childs, one of life's more expert rabbits.

Uncowed, Garnham dutifully cornered the strike, carried on hoisting while the fielders played spot-the-ball, and suddenly the equation was down to 14 from the last over. Fed up with his supporting role, Childs twice clubbed Mike Atherton through midwicket, then left Garnham to complete the job with a drive that soared past the diving Mike Watkinson on the long-off boundary.

In fairness, this was all a little bit cruel on Lancashire, for whom Phillip DeFreitas, significantly, failed to complete an over, pulling up after his third delivery with a recurrence of the groin strain that forced him to miss the Old Trafford Test. By then, though, his batsmen had appeared to have done more than enough to ensure that their spearhead's absence could be tolerated by a side desperately seeking victory to salvage their summer.

Nick Speak, loose-limbed and lucid, and Graeme Fowler, foxy and forceful, contributed sparkling half-centuries after Lancashire had been inserted on a run- laden pitch that would not have looked out of place had it been plonked in the middle of the Sahara. The dream topping, much- needed after a post-lunch stutter, came courtesy of Dexter Fitton and Ian Austin, who pulled their considerable combined weight to lash 40 from the last 20 balls.

Encouraged by DeFreitas's early exit, Gooch and John Stephenson embarked on their daunting mission with a jaunty stride, the junior partner making light of the two broken fingers that had sidelined him for the previous fortnight as he dominated a stand worth 123 in 26 overs.

Gooch departed freakishly, caught between Warren Hegg's ankles off the bottom edge during Atherton's excellent spell of leg- spin, but although Essex were up with the rate when the umpires first discussed the light and decided that proceedings should continue, Mark Waugh's waft at the next ball looked likely to constitute the end of proceedings.

Play was promptly adjourned three balls later and five wickets duly were lost in the 12 overs immediately following the resumption. Neil Fairbrother, unexpectedly restored to the captaincy after a month spent nursing his hamstring, might have wished for a less dispiriting comeback than the one proffered by that scarcely credible final act.

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