Cricket / Round-Up: Old campaigners close on leaders

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THE bookies will be calling for a stewards' inquiry; for the first time in 13 starts Warwickshire lose, only for most of their Championship rivals to fall at the same hurdle, writes Glenn Moore. The only side in the top five not to, Leicestershire, go second and since their coach, Jackie Birkenshaw, kicked off the idea of betting on a grand slam with a punt on his own side three years ago, their rise may only be of limited relief to the odds-makers.

Behind Leicestershire three hardened contenders are beginning to move through the pack like crocodiles slipping through the water. Only four sides have won the title in the last 15 years and three of them, Warwickshire's conquerors Nottinghamshire, Essex and Middlesex won yesterday to move within snapping distance.

Essex's victory was the most significant for their victims were Surrey, second when the round of matches began, but beaten by an innings and 87 runs in what was effectively two days' play. Yesterday their last five wickets went down in 28 minutes, Peter Such underlined that their are few better exponents of a turning pitch with 6 for 46. It was also an important victory for Essex's self-belief for this was the first time in 11 matches stretching back to last June that they have won without Graham Gooch.

Their injured leader was at Colchester and, after declaring his belief that he would be fit to play in Thursday's third Test, said: 'We're back in the Championship race. We are on the fringe but another couple of wins and we'll be right up there.'

Slightly further adrift are Middlesex whose innings and 30 runs win over Somerset was inspired by Phil Tufnell's season's-best 4 for 17 which gave him eight in the match.

Most unlikely victory was Derbyshire's over Sussex. Set 176 to win they were 148 for 9 when Devon Malcolm came to the crease. There followed a four, then a six - both off a stunned Franklyn Stephenson who then saw Malcolm push a gentle single to clinch victory.