Cricket: Robinson drops anchor

Essex 244 & 437 Gloucestershire 400 & 62-4
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A SOLID, career-best 123 by Darren Robinson, augmented by attractive half-centuries from Nasser Hussain, Mark Waugh and Ronnie Irani, was the foundation stone on which Essex built a potentially match-winning lead of 281 from a first-innings deficit of 156.

On Friday, when Monte Lynch and Andrew Symonds were hitting hundreds, Gloucestershire must have been contemplating a second Championship win at their famous festival. Instead, Essex now go into the final day having cut savagely into a Gloucestershire batting order missing the injured Rob Cunliffe.

While Javagal Srinath and Mike Smith were testing their aches and strains first thing, Robinson and Hussain quietly consolidated a second-wicket partnership eventually worth 126 runs. Indeed, so quiet were the opening sorties that as much attention was paid to off-field activities as to the cricket.

It was one of those days when some spectators began the day more bare than the pitch, even if some of the flesh looked as if it had propped a front row in bygone days. Solicitously, there were also some limbs in keeping with the classical lines of the college architecture.

In the middle, the classicism came principally from Waugh, whose last eight innings have now realised 627 runs. Yesterday's 80, coming off 112 balls, contained a six and 10 fours. But it was his artistry that mattered, not the statistics, as it lifted the tenor of the day's entertainment.

When he was dismissed, however, flicking a catch to square-leg, Essex lost their last five wickets for 66, and they owed everything to Irani's second half-century of the game. Like Waugh, he drove straight with elan and punched through the covers with an easy grace. Once he was out, top- edging for the wicketkeeper to catch him running back, Srinath wrapped up the innings by removing Neil Williams and John Childs with consecutive deliveries.

Robinson, who batted five and three-quarter hours in all for his second century of the summer, gives the impression that he will serve Essex for some years. He had hit 18 fours by the time Srinath ripped out his off- stump, but by then he had done his job well. When he held on to a fierce pull at square-leg to begin Gloucestershire's collapse late in the day, his match was complete.

While their bowlers were plugging away, Gloucestershire's fielding was unflagging, with Symonds inspirational. True, Hussain had escapes at 54 and 61 but Matt Windows's sharp reactions at short-leg ensured they scarcely mattered.

Just as it looked as if Reggie Williams would add a dropped catch to his earlier missed stumping, Windows lunged across the pitch to catch the bobbing rebound one-handed.