Cricket: Puzzling Essex drop out of sight

Essex 178 & 101 Warwickshire 237 & 43-2 Warwicks won by eight wickets
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The Independent Online
Inspector Frost would have sent this match to forensics, if not pathology. At the half-way stage of the season Essex seemed a better bet than most for the County Championship. Since then things have turned sour, but nothing has been worse than their second innings against Warwickshire, whom they play today week in the NatWest final.

Their first innings would have been bad enough and they were only brought back into the match by Peter Such, who took six for 94 in 30 overs. Warwickshire's lead of 59 looked useful rather than anything more, and yet in no time Essex were 42 for 6 in their second innings.

Certainly there was an uneven bounce and Allan Donald was decidedly sharp at the start. Nonetheless, the impetus for this collapse came from within. Essex would surely never have batted like this six weeks ago - but then maybe they would have done, and that is why they are no longer in the hunt.

There were a curious mixture of dismissals. In the third over Tim Hodgson tried to push Donald to extra cover and was caught behind. In the fourth, Darren Robinson played back and across the line to Dougie Brown and was lbw when he should have been forward.

The score was still only one when, two balls later, Stuart Law went back and, in trying to slash Brown square on the offside, was caught behind. It became 13 for four when Nasser Hussain played half-forward to Donald, was hit low on the front pad and was lbw. Paul Grayson then gently drove a long hop from Neil Smith off the back foot to extra cover.

There was no reason for it all. Danny Law, who has had a most disappointing first season with Essex, straight drove Smith for six before being lbw swinging horrendously across the line at Ashley Giles. Ian Flanagan, who is only 17 and looked as composed as anyone, was bowled by Giles's quicker ball and on the point of tea Robert Rollins pull-drove Giles to wide mid- on.

The innings ended in the third over after tea, with Essex bowled out for their lowest score since the NatWest final last year, when Lancashire dismissed them for 57. It was hardly the build-up they would have wanted, either, for this year's final. Warwickshire were left to score 43 for victory.