Cricket: Prichard peppers the boundaries

CRICKET: Essex skipper inspires rout of Somerset as Surrey savage Hampshire in the Benson and Hedges Cup Somerset 269-8 Essex 270 Essex win by eight wickets
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This was a match between two sides of contrasting styles: conventional Essex against the topsy-turvy cricket of Somerset as envisaged by their new coach, Dermot Reeve. Surprisingly, in a form of the game that is forever mutating, convention won hands down, a personal best of 114 by Paul Prichard rendering a high-scoring match a virtual no-contest as Essex secured victory with more than seven overs to spare.

Essex have yet to lose a game in any competition this season. This win means they are more or less guaranteed a home tie for the quarter-final round in three weeks' time. They still have to play Ireland in Downpatrick, but with three wins already, a pre-match Guinness or two is unlikely to incur the captain's disapproval.

Indeed Prichard, currently enjoying a rich vein of form, is quite likely to be buying the first round. After a winter spent recuperating from an operation on his back, he has recovered both his touch and confidence, the latter's fluctuations having been caused mainly by a horrendous injury in 1987 when he had his right index finger shattered by a beamer from a raw Allan Donald.

On a pitch of even bounce and pace, Somerset simply found it impossible to bowl at him. By picking the length early, he can cut and pull deliveries that others would merely be content to defend with a dead bat. Even Andrew Caddick, a likely member of England's Test attack this summer, was unable to command his respect and Prichard punctured the field at will as he and Law put on 202 for the first wicket.

It is not often a player of Law's calibre is outscored as the Australian was here over the early part of the innings. However, it was not long before Essex's overseas player began to get back on terms, and he fairly assaulted Mushtaq Ahmed's first over as three sumptuous fours came from three different strokes, each clattering into the boundary boards in a different part of the ground.

The Pakistani leg-spinner, who had overwhelmed Ireland with seven wickets a few days ago, was clearly carrying a sore knee, apparently injured while carrying his cricket bag up the pavilion stairs. After Essex's roaring start (100-0 after 15 overs) Somerset needed him to be at his best. Unfortunately for them, his first over set the tone and Mushtaq's three overs cost 31 runs, whereafter he spent the remainder of the innings hobbling about in the field.

Having a progressive coach running the show is never dull and the Somerset innings was full of the machinations of Reeve's hyperactive mind. Michael Burns, who followed his old captain from Warwickshire, scored 91 before playing across a straight one from Paul Grayson's left-arm spin.

Mushtaq, his knee injury strangely yet to reveal itself, was promoted and merrily clocked up a rapid 31 as Somerset tried to increase their momentum. In the end, a well-paced innings of 64 by Richard Harden pushed Somerset past the 260 mark.

It was only after the assault by Prichard and Law that everyone realised how inadequate that total was.