Cricket: Steady gain for Curtis

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Worcestershire. .379 and 198-7

Essex. . . . . . 305

THE majority of the crowd here yesterday will have departed cursing Tim Curtis, the Worcestershire captain. Not because his innings of 82 had occupied 73 overs, a stay every bit as watchful as the figures suggest, but because it shortened the odds of a third successive Championship defeat for Essex.

Worcestershire finished the penultimate day of what is a good if occasionally ponderous match 272 ahead with three second-innings wickets in hand. At one stage 102 for 5 and transfixed by some masterly slow bowling from John Childs, Worcestershire were given the stability by Curtis necessary to give his bowlers some runs to play with tomorrow.

Even on a pitch encouraging spin, one would have backed the Essex side of the last two seasons successfully to chase a target in the region of 300 as often as not. But while the retirement of Neil Foster has again highlighted their need for a quick bowler, the batsmen have not been making runs when it matters this year. The defeat by Durham last week was a case in point.

Then they were saved from following on by Mike Garnham, but lost on the last day. Salvation here came from a more unlikely source, Peter Such, whose batting has been the butt of many a joke in the past. Now his first first-class half- century became a cause for Essex celebrations.

They would have been in trouble without it, as the acclaim of Such's team-mates on the pavilion balcony testified when the milestone was reached. The merriment was reciprocated by Such who lifted his bat aloft. When he arrived at the fall of the seventh wicket, Essex were 12 runs short of avoiding the follow-on. When he was last out they trailed by 74.

Such played with something close to authority, not a quality usually associated with his batting. When he struck Richard Illing

worth over mid-on for six, Essex were safe and the seamers were shown no more respect. The new ball was seen off without much fuss and it took a deflection on to the stumps at the non-striker's end to dislodge Steve Andrew, Such's partner in a stand of 55 for the ninth wicket.

Worcestershire stumbled first against Such and then against Childs, whose four wickets included three in the space of 10 balls, as they attempted to build a match-winning lead. Then Curtis became entrenched and, during his stay of more than four hours, he passed 1,000 runs in a season for the 10th time in his career.