Cricket: Peters holds out

Surrey 373 Essex 151-8
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THE CONCEPT of wasted youth could never be applied to either Essex or Surrey; neither county is afraid to blood youngsters at the highest level as long as they are good enough. That is certainly the case with Stephen Peters and Jamie Grove in Essex's struggles against the Championship leaders, Surrey.

The more youth there is waiting to come through, the more cover there is when injuries and Test calls strike. That is precisely what has happened to Surrey. Their captain Adam Hollioake revealed that his younger brother Ben is carrying a groin injury, which prevented him from bowling yesterday and renders him doubtful for the next Championship match against Lancashire at Old Trafford, and that Alistair Brown has a badly bruised finger which will at best hamper his batting. Additionally, they will lose Mark Butcher, Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe to England while one of their trusty reserves, Nadeem Shahid, has been laid low by a virus.

Essex are not so badly off. Captain Paul Prichard has recovered from a stress fracture of the shin and will be back for next week's match against Somerset at Bath, as should the fast bowler, Ashley Cowan. But yesterday it must have been reassuring to see the two teenagers, Peters and Grove, link up at a tense time - shortly before lunch and the rain - with Surrey, tails up, steaming in and looking for their final bowling bonus point.

Martin Bicknell had just accounted for Danny Law and Mark Ilott and the prospect of following-on - weather permitting - loomed large. But the youthful pair stuck it out until the end, when the rain struck again, and the weather may yet offer bottom-of-the-table Essex salvation - they have certainly come off second best so far.

Peters, 19, is playing in his 11th first-class match, having made his debut aged 17 two years ago (his 110 against Cambridge University that year made him the youngest player in the country to score a first-class hundred). Grove, still 18 and making his first-class debut, displayed a great deal of promise with his brisk medium seam and swing. Both players were part of a five-man Essex contingent - the others were all-rounder Graham Napier, 18, off-spinner Jonathan Powell, 19 yesterday, and opening batsman Ian Flanagan, 18 - on the England Under-19 tour last winter. Peters scored a hundred as they lifted the World Cup and both he and Grove feel the experience helped them with the step up to the senior game.

Essex deserve credit for blooding their youngsters when many would baulk at the idea. But Prichard insisted: "I am not afraid to go with a 17 or 18-year-old if they are good enough. That has always been Essex policy. I was given my chance at 18, as was Graham Gooch, and Keith Fletcher before him. As captain it is one of my jobs to help build a platform of talented players to maintain a run of success at Essex for the next 10 to 15 years. I'm an Essex man, I will want to see them winning for a long after I've retired. Bringing on the likes of Peters, Napier and Grove is the way to achieve that."