Cricket: Stephenson inspires Essex

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The Independent Online
Nottinghamshire .....247-8 v Essex

THE SIGHT of Graham Gooch turning his arm over in the 11th over of the innings is scarcely one likely to evoke visions of an Essex revival. Until Chris Cairns stemmed the tide late on, there were nevertheless distinct signs of just that here yesterday, the inspiration coming from an only slightly more plausible quarter, namely John Stephenson's seam-up.

To suggest that the first five- wicket haul of Stephenson's career was just what the doctor ordered would be something of an understatement. Since soaring to victory over Sussex in mid-July, Essex have gone into an uncharacteristic, if explicable, nose-dive, losing six of their last seven games in all formats, the loss of Mark Waugh and Neil Foster combining with Test calls to rip out the heart of the side. In the process, their Championship lead has been whittled down from a seemingly invincible 53 points to a vulnerable 22. At the start of play, odds of 5-2 on the champions retaining their pennant appeared decidedly stingy.

When Nottinghamshire reached 93 for 1 courtesy of a statuesque effort from Paul Pollard, the bookie responsible must have been feeling a touch sheepish, all the more so since the visitors are themselves scenting the Britannic spoils. He should have known better, of course. Derek Pringle loped up, drew an edge from Tim Robinson for Gooch to spring at second slip and clasp a breathtaking catch, then bowled Mark Crawley next ball as the youngster unaccountably shouldered arms.

The next man hardly radiated stability. Indeed, Derek Randall's trademark fidgetting - part nervous tic, part showmanship - is such that it is a wonder that he can stand still, and he duly overbalanced against Stephenson, giving Adrian Brown the opportunity for a stealthy legside stumping. In Stephenson's next over, Chris Lewis lunged and Brown accepted the nick.

These incursions constituted a notable return for Brown, a 30- year-old Cambridge Blue making his fifth first-class appearance five years after his fourth. This Ipswich schoolteacher owes his presence here to the horrific eye injury sustained by Mark Garnham at Grace Road, a somewhat ironic turn of events since it was Garnham who supplanted Brown on the Chelmsford staff in 1988.

With four wickets now having gone inside nine overs, Cairns entered a crisis situation, but any momentary sense of drama was soon dissipated as the sixth-wicket pair patched up the leaky vessel with 73 in 21 overs, Pollard emerging briefly from his cabin to reach 50 in the 60th over. When he finally bade farewell after 258 minutes, leg-before to Stephenson, it was difficult to tell whether Essex or the cheering crowd were the more relieved.

A scheme to introduce baseball at Lord's has been given the go-ahead by the MCC Cricket Committee. The idea is the brainchild of the London sports promoter Jon Smith who is negotiating with MCC and Major League representatives to stage an exhibition match in October, 1993.