WHILE Graham Gooch began the week cursing the invention of leg-spin, he ended it paying homage at the altar. Salim Malik's exposition of the art so bamboozled Warwickshire yesterday afternoon that Essex were able to turn this match on its head.
This bizarre metamorphosis was as Kafkaesque as it was sudden. In a morning studded with runs, Nasser Hussain swept to his fourth century of the season, adding 163 in 44 overs with Salim (90) before Gooch took the positive step of declaring 64 behind.
Ball had beaten bat with the utmost reluctance and Allan Donald's bouncers had preferred to squat. That Andy Moles and Jason Ratcliffe should have opened with 75 untroubled runs seemed merely par for the course.
The advent of Salim and his looping, teasing flight then transformed the march into a stutter. Moles was caught behind, Ratcliffe drove low to short-extra, Paul Smith was pinned in front by one that kept a shade low. Dominic Ostler repeated his first innings authority for a while, but when he launched Salim to mid- on, Derek Pringle caught him.
The spine of the innings broken, another irregular, John Stephenson, profited from the increasingly erratic bounce to gather three leg-before decisions before taking off to intercept Neil Smith's firm return drive. As the skies darkened, Salim induced an edge from Gladstone Small to complete his first five-wicket haul in this country. Peter Such and John Childs could only look on in bemusement. Stephenson completed his nap hand but Essex will do well to avoid complacency. On a surface growing thoroughly disagreeable, chasing 271 tomorrow will be no picnic.