Cricket: Prichard puts past woes behind him

Essex 91-2 v Leicestershire
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The Independent Online
THE RUNS did not exactly flood in for Paul Prichard but, between the showers of hail and rain which enveloped the County Ground, the former Essex captain put behind him the misery of last season when every innings was an unhappy outing and ground his way to within a couple of blows of what should be his first half-century for the best part of 18 months.

Prichard had the most appalling run of form in 1998 (so, as it happens, did Essex since they contrived to finish bottom of the heap). His highest score in the Championship was 24 and he finished the season by giving up the captaincy to Nasser Hussain and an average of 13, hardly worthy of a man with more than 15,000 first-class runs to his name.

As a measure of his level of concentration yesterday Prichard negotiated each stoppage, the fourth was the final one, as if it were but a brief pause. And considering he was up against Leicestershire, the defending champions, it was all the more meritorious.

It was not plain sailing. Far from it. Mike Kasprowicz - an Essex old boy, albeit of just one season in 1994 - created plenty of waves and frequently beat the bat early on as Prichard and his opening partner, Darren Robinson, struggled to find their bearings.

At times, given the light, that was understandable. Robinson looked the uneasier of the pair and it was no surprise when, having reached a scratchy 13, he finally succumbed. Chris Lewis, who was looking venomous at times from the River End, got the Essex man on to the back foot and found an edge high up the bat. Paul Nixon, one of the most underrated wicketkeepers around, took a comfortable catch.

Ian Flanagan, still only 18, sank without trace, his third ball rapping his pad when he was barely forward to give Kasprowicz a deserved wicket.

Flanagan's departure set up an intriguing confrontation, since it brought Stuart Law to the crease. He is Kasprowicz's Queensland captain, but there was no sign of cobbership.

Law took two runs off the burly fast bowler then survived a confident bellow for leg-before. A ball or so later and Kasprowicz had the misfortune to concede what appeared to be an inadvertent boundary, one that squirted over the ropes at third man.

Gradually, though, the batsmen's confidence grew. Prichard, having passed his 1998 mark, let rip with boundaries, first off Lewis, then James Ormond, and they sandwiched a far more confident brace from Law off Kasprowicz, the first a fine, fine glance, the second a delicate cut.

Ormond only lasted a couple of overs from the River End before it was decided that he would probably be more effective with the wind somewhere behind him. In the event he did not get on. As James Whitaker - back in charge of the side after virtually a year out following long-term knee problems - juggled things around to effect the change of ends, a combination of a Lewis maiden from the River End and some heavy black clouds brought a premature close to proceedings. It was a day when more than 73 overs were lost to the weather.