Essex bowlers miss the mark

Essex 130 and 270 Notts 213 and 188-3 Notts win by seven wickets
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The relief Nottinghamshire felt at escaping punishment from the England and Wales Cricket Board pitch panel that convened here on Thursday night grew even greater by mid-afternoon yesterday as the reprieved county completed a seven-wicket victory before tea.

Ronnie Irani, the Essex captain, had described the prepared strip as "dangerous" after an opening day in which 15 wickets fell, but the panel comprising ECB pitch liaison officers Phil Sharpe and David Hughes decided its condition was no worse than "below average" and did not warrant any points penalty.

To rub salt in their wounds, Essex learned after being beaten with more than a day plus one session to spare that they had been docked half a point themselves, on account of their bowlers' slow over rate. Irani must think cricket a cruel game sometimes, although his 7 for 61 in the first innings did at least improve his career-best bowling.

Graham Gooch, the Essex head coach, did not share his captain's view of the conditions, blaming defeat on the failure of Irani's supporting cast to adequately exploit them. "Whatever pitches you come across, you have to learn to play in different conditions," he said.

"I've seen a few that were a lot worse than this one and the fact is that our bowlers did not put the ball in the right place often enough."

Only one bowler really did. Following his three wickets taken in Essex's first innings, Greg Smith took the remaining three wickets yesterday morning as they were bowled out a second time for 270. The left-armer finished with 8 for 53, a career-best, as was his match return of 11-74.

It was South African-born Smith's smart-missile accuracy from the Pavilion End that set him apart as he consistently hit the spot from which the ball would rear up and have the batsman on his toes. Once Paul Franks returns after his recovery from a knee injury, Nottinghamshire may trouble a few more opponents.

Some of the earlier terrors in the pitch had gone yesterday, with the ground bathed in warm sunshine, although there was still some movement. Usman Afzaal emerged as Nottinghamshire's match-winner with the bat. His 119-ball unbeaten 85 might not have matched Paul Grayson's second-day 83 for technical merit, but there was nothing inferior about the quality of his strokes as he hit 17 fours.

Earlier, a forceful partnership between James Middlebrook and Ashley Cowan had stretched Essex to 270 from 215 for 7 overnight, leaving Nottinghamshire 188 to win. Had Nasser Hussain not dropped Afzaal before lunch when he was 24, the task might have been problematic. As it was, against some ragged bowling, it was easy.

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