Blackwell's spin leaves Yorkshire hanging on

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The Independent Online

Yorkshire just cannot lift themselves out of the doldrums, let alone off the bottom of the County Champion- ship First Division. The champions are still seeking their first win of the season, and had no chance of achieving it at Scarborough, where they had clinched the title for the first time in 33 years amid ecstatic scenes last season.

Yorkshire just cannot lift themselves out of the doldrums, let alone off the bottom of the County Champion- ship First Division. The champions are still seeking their first win of the season, and had no chance of achieving it at Scarborough, where they had clinched the title for the first time in 33 years amid ecstatic scenes last season.

Against Somerset they resumed on 258 for 6, 91 runs short of avoiding the follow-on. But the visitors had themselves not won any of their last six games, and their attack was deprived of both Andy Caddick and Richard Johnson.

So survival at least looked an option, albeit a distant one, as all-rounder Ian Blackwell, who was included in the list of hopefuls for Rod Marsh's National Academy in Adelaide this winter, took three wickets in seven overs for figures of 4 for 49. Yorkshire were all out for 323, 175 in arrears, and were asked to bat again.

It was up to Blackwell and fellow spinner Keith Dutch to take the strain and each took a pair of wickets, the 24-year-old Blackwell picking up the scalp of Australian Darren Lehmann, caught behind for 75. But Yorkshire hung on for a creditable draw at 213 for 5.

Are the wheels coming off in the land of the second-hand car dealer? Essex, having accumulated five consecutive victories, have now lost two in a row to relinquish the top spot in the Second Division.

Their position was precarious to say the least, with a lead of just half a point after succumbing tamely to Glamorgan last week. The loss of their inspirational leader Ronnie Irani to the England one-day side seems to be having a severely detrimental effect.

At Southend yesterday, with Darren Robinson in charge again, they resumed on 115 for 5, still 61 runs adrift of Worcestershire, in a similar position to the way they entered the final day a week before. Their hopes of survival were swiftly dealt a hammer blow by the early loss of the one batsman who could have batted all day, Zimbabwe's Andy Flower.

He fell to Gareth Batty, who moved to Worcestershire from Surrey over the winter. Having taken just four wickets in his three first-class matches before the season began, he, too, celebrated his selection in the provisional squad for the Academy by taking a career-best 6 for 71 in the first innings and followed it up with 3 for 71 in the second.

Flower's dismissal was followed immediately by that of John Stephenson, leaving the hosts on 122 for 7. Although Ashley Cowan made 53 and the tail wagged effectively to put on 135 for the last three wickets and thereby avoid an innings defeat, Essex were all out for 257 with another mooted Academy student, pace bowler Kabir Ali, taking 3 for 32. Graeme Hick's side cruised to victory on 82 for 2, which took them above Essex.

Middlesex pulled off a victory at Southgate to go to the top of the Second Division, after Gloucestershire obliged with a declaration to permit a result in a match which was heading for stalemate.

Andrew Strauss declared the home side's first innings just two balls into the day, with Phil Tufnell hitting the boundary which ensured a third batting bonus point on 301 for 9.

Then Mark Alleyne called a halt to his second innings at 152 for 2 after 36 overs, Kim Barnett adding 47 to his mara-thon first-innings 182 not out and Tim Hancock making an unbeaten 63. This left Middle-sex with a teasing target of 240 on a turning track, with Ian Fisher's slow left-armers having reaped 5 for 87 on Friday.

But an adventurous stand of 149 between two 23-year-olds, Aaron Laraman, who was undefeated on 82 off 95 balls with six fours and three sixes, and Owais Shah, with 63, hurried them to 241 for 5 in 52 overs.

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