Cricket: Robinson and Astle halt Essex

Essex 440-7 dec and 10-1 Nottinghamshire 351-3 dec
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This may be the match that rules Essex out of the Championship picture. Although they have a fixture in hand on some of the other contenders, only a win will keep them in realistic contention and that seems unlikely now.

After centuries by Tim Robinson and Nathan Astle, Nottinghamshire declared 89 behind yesterday evening, obliging Essex, who had extended their lead to 99 for the loss of one wicket by the close, to come up with a suitable challenge today. Recent history suggests that spinners do well on the last day here, but Peter Such will need more help from the pitch than he obtained yesterday if he is to be Essex's match-winner.

Such swapped one end for the other repeatedly in the hope of finding encouragement, but a slow surface remained unresponsive. The England off- spinner was among eight bowlers employed by Essex, none of whom was able to disturb the serene progress made by Robinson and Astle during a partnership worth 193 runs in 49 overs.

After a year of frustration, interrupted by a broken hand, Robinson was in solidly good order in making his first hundred of the summer and remained unbeaten for almost six hours for his 143, hitting 19 boundaries. Typically, the innings had some turgid passages, but the former captain entered into the spirit of things when the current skipper, Paul Johnson, emerged at two down to smash 41 off 40 balls. They added 97 in 17 overs before Johnson holed out to long on and declared.

Astle, the New Zealander whom Nottinghamshire hope will be succeeded by Shane Warne as their overseas player in 1998, equalled his best score for the county in the grand manner by depositing Ashley Cowan into the supermarket car park beyond mid-wicket, having faced 150 balls and hit 16 fours. He had made no addition when he then drove loosely to extra cover off the same bowler.

Earlier, Matthew Dowman became Graham Napier's maiden Championship victim, but the 17-year-old seam-bowling all-rounder's joy at obtaining an lbw verdict was tempered somewhat when Astle and Robinson went after him after lunch.