Cricket: Tourists are taken the distance by Essex

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The Independent Online
Australians . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .357-6 dec and 218

Essex . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .268 and 277-9

Match drawn

IN THE overall scheme of things, as Humphrey Bogart once put it, events here yesterday scarcely amounted to a hill of beans. For another full house, though, there was plenty to savour as the outgoing county champions went toe-to-toe with the tourists before settling for an honourable draw.

At one point, in fact, Allan Border's final tilt at a county looked in danger of providing a rare encounter with humility. When Essex, with seven wickets intact, began the last 10 overs needing 66 more runs, hopeless romantics were not alone in contemplating a repeat of their Keith Fletcher-inspired triumph at Southend in 1964.

Requiring 308 in a minimum of 72 overs, Graham Gooch had supplied his customarily bullish send-off and Nick Knight and Nasser Hussain were cruising for a bruising. Deftly manoeuvring the Australians' second- line bowling, they were further encouraged by the sight of Tim May nursing an ankle injury on the dressing-room balcony. That will teach him to get in the way of one of Merv Hughes's throws.

The Australian fielding, however, has been as intrinsic to their success as any individual heroics with bat and ball and three telling instances now thrust the target out of reach.

First Knight, a fluent left-hander who had overcome a 43-minute snooze after lunch to cut and drive with growing felicity, swept Tim Zoehrer to deep mid-wicket where Matthew Hayden hurled his 17-stone frame forward to intercept. Zoehrer himself was the next acrobat, scampering in to hold Hussain's lofted six- iron on the run, before Shane Warne rounded things off with a leap at long- off to deny Mark Ilott.

Some decidedly ungenerous offerings from Mark Waugh to his erstwhile county muckers also restrained the charge and the wickets tumbled with such alacrity that Jonathan Lewis was left to block out Zoehrer's last over. This he did with much aplomb, capping a day which had begun with Peter Such and Derek Pringle saving the Australians the bother of calculating a target in the best manner possible. An example, albeit a belated one, has been set.