Another challenge for the title has been expunged in all but remote technicality, and Leicestershire will rest easier after Essex's failure to beat Sussex at home yesterday. Set 421 to win off a minimum of 71 overs, the home side fell apart in the middle, Ian Salisbury taking a career- best 8 for 75 as risks against the turning ball proved too costly to sustain.
For Essex, the disappointment will not be easy to swallow, particularly as another new dawn fades to grey. Although pedantic mathematical possibilities still exist - should Essex win their final match, and either pestilence or flood suddenly descend upon Grace Road - only Kent now realistically have the beating of the Midlands county, should this weekend's weather set fair.
Essex's run chase was a big ask in any language, let alone in the dropped aitches that accompanied former glories. The pitch, so good for three days, yesterday began to help the spinners. Apart from failing to win the toss and thereby take the last bowl on this slowly eroding surface, Essex have little to admonish themselves over.
However, for Salisbury, who had confined himself almost solely to bowling around the wicket in the first innings, the pitch's extra purchase proved heartening. For one thing, he was more positive yesterday, starting over the wicket and continuing, despite Essex's thunderous start which saw the hundred posted in the 14th over.
He stayed over too, gaining the prestigious scalp of Stuart Law with a masterful delivery that pitched middle and hit the top of off. The Australian returned to the pavilion with the kind of quizzical look normally associated with those bamboozled by Shane Warne.
In the past, Essex have always been sustained over big last- innings totals by centuries from their batting grand master Graham Gooch. Although he began well, dispatching the seam of James Kirtley and Vasbert Drakes with the disdain of his youth, a misjudgment against Salisbury - a top-edged sweep - cost him his wicket.
It meant that Essex now relied upon Nasser Hussain and Law. Both began well, with Hussain cutting sweetly and Law plundering a six and two fours off Salisbury. Both, however, perished as the run rate began to climb, Law's exit prompting a collapse that saw Essex lose three wickets with the score on 167, including that of Ronnie Irani for a third-ball duck.
Only a Pyrrhic half-century by Robert Rollins prevented complete capitulation, as the draw and its extra three points were given little consideration.
In truth, Essex lost their chance by allowing Sussex to add 82 runs to their overnight score. Apart from a couple of umpiring decisions that irked them, each run pricked as sharp as the seaxes on their sweaters. That pain is sure to haunt them should Leicestershire and Kent stumble in a few days' time.
TOP OF THE TABLE
P W L D Bat Bwl Tot
Leics 16 9 1 6 53 57 272
Surrey 16 8 1 7 49 60 258
Kent 16 9 1 6 47 48 257
Essex 16 8 4 4 54 55 249
19 Sept: Middlesex (h).
19 Sept: Worcestershire (h).
19 Sept: Gloucestershire (a).
19 Sept: Glamorgan (h).Reuse content