Cricket: Wells takes advantage of Essex lapses

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The Independent Online
Sussex 361-8 v Essex

Exorcising the recent past has been something of an Essex speciality, but despite the tonic of their returning Australian, Stuart Law, the spectre of last Saturday's NatWest nightmare still lingers. Sussex and their captain, Alan Wells, took full advantage, the visiting captain compiling a fluent 122.

It was only Wells' second century of the season, the first coming over three months ago on 6 June against lowly Durham. Consistently Sussex's best batsman over the last decade, his lack of indulgence this season (he has only just passed 1,000 Championship runs) probably goes some way to explaining why the visitors have lost their way, and their last four games.

However, Essex know better than to rely on an opponent's generosity at this stage of the season, although no one would have guessed by the way they bowled that they had pretensions to a seventh Championship title.

Perhaps they expected the visitors, who won the toss, to go belly up here. If so, they should have bowled with a little more urgency, particularly early on, when the pitch offered a helping hand to those prepared to bowl an awkward off stump line.

Later, despite a veneer of cloud cover, that generosity had dwindled, a point Ian Salisbury amplified with a freely stroked 69. One lofted shot for six off Peter Such over mid-wicket resulted in a lost ball. That no doubt offered some satisfaction to Salisbury, who finds himself without a tour to go on this winter.

The loss of Neil Williams, still indisposed after pulling up lame last Saturday, did not help the Essex cause either. Williams has, according to many here, bowled better than anyone over the last month. Although his new-ball replacement, Ashley Cowan, struck quickly to send back Bill Athey for six, both he and Mark Ilott allowed late season niggles to get to them. Neil Lenham pounced upon that weakness in making an assured 55 as runs came quickly.

Only the introduction of Such stemmed the early flow as Lenham and Keith Greenfield succumbed to the off-spinner's numbing accuracy. Wells was not as easily entranced or enticed as Such's third victim, Danny Law, who holed out at mid-on for nought.

The catching was less than pin sharp as well, Robert Rollins spilling a chance from Keith Greenfield as the edge split the gap between wicketkeeper and slip. Having held a good catch at slip to get rid of Peter Moores, Graham Gooch dropped another before spilling Wells, on 117, off Such at short mid-wicket.

The latter was not an expensive miss, but Gooch can be such a cussed character that he is far more likely to retire because of clanged catches than any batting infirmity. However, according to Keith Fletcher, Essex's cricket consultant, he has been in fine fettle in both departments and plans to continue for yet another season.

It is during Gooch's quarter of a century at the club that the Essex character, that of part magician, part scrapper, evolved. They urgently need those powers if they are to stay in this Championship race.