Cricket: Tall, cool Ostler: Rob Steen reports from Ilford

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The Independent Online
IF GRAHAM GOOCH was anticipating some balm for his wounds on his home ground, familiarity did not breed content. With Essex in apparent decline, a return to the county ranks is no longer the rejuvenating experience it once was.

That Warwickshire, until yesterday, were one of eight counties without a full haul of batting points this season is indicative of the way in which the four-day format has rendered the present bonus system all but superfluous. It is a reflection of the lack of growl in the Bears' ragged staff, which until their arrival here had managed just the one century all summer. All the more reason to fall in love with Valentine's Park.

With time to spare against a lack-lustre attack and a benign pitch, Dominic Ostler, a tall, cool stroke-player with a penchant for the off-drive, put on an accomplished, increasingly authoritative display that brought him 24 boundaries and 174 runs, reinforcing the impression that he could one day become the first specialist batsman from Edgbaston to don an England cap since Andy Lloyd had his 33 minutes of fame and pain in 1984. While the watching Keith Fletcher may not have added him to the bottomless list of Trent Bridge options, he must surely have taken heed.

Ostler had three slices of luck, surviving tricky chances to silly point when eight and to deep midwicket on 161. And at 66, he clipped John Childs beyond Derek Pringle's despairing dive at mid-on but, to give the batsman his due, he picked his man well; for all Pringle's virtues, it would be overly generous to call him a professional athlete.

Entering in the 10th over after Andy Moles had popped a return catch to Mark Ilott, Ostler helped Jason Ratcliffe add 127 in 48 overs. It took John Stephenson, the seventh bowler used, to end it, Ratcliffe being caught behind attempting a steer to third man. Paul Smith also fell to Stephenson's underrated seam, leg-before when shouldering arms eight overs later.

Dermot Reeve was his usual, restless, inventive self, advancing to Peter Such at one point and shaping to play a reverse sweep, then changing his mind in mid-stroke and opting for a more conventional paddle. When Mike Garnham's claim for a catch off the inside edge was upheld, the expression on the visiting captain's face was even more animated, which was more than could be said for his opposite number as Ostler marched on into the sunset before wearily driving to cover.

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