Essex must wait for Cook to rescue them from the old pros' stew

Essex 256 and 257-4 Warwickshire 503

Essex are sinking, and Graham Gooch cannot locate the lifeboat. They had to beat Warwickshire in the penultimate Championship match to think of escaping relegation, and their chances of doing so can be inferred from conversation among the Chelmsford cogno-scenti. Being in the Second Division next summer will mean trips to Somerset and Cardiff. That is good. Durham's a bit far away, but nice. No one mentioned Derby.

A draw is possible, though unlikely. The pitch, which did for Essex when there was some juice in it on Thursday morning, is growing flatter by the session, and Essex were able to eradicate the 247-run deficit with only four wickets down, but at the close they were effectively 10 for 4.

Their young openers put on 122 for the first wicket, and Warwickshire's overseas talent, in the form of Waqar Younis from Pakistan and Corey Collymore from the West Indies, could not make an impression. The first three wickets fell to the slow off-spin of Mark Wagh, who bowled 30 consecutive overs for 86 (Ashley Giles was not permitted to play by England's management in case the poor petal was too tired).

Look on the bright side. The telegraph pole called Will Jefferson scored 62 before giving a bat-pad catch to Dougie Brown at silly point, but his opening partner was even more interesting on the day. Alastair Cook was at Bedford School until the end of the summer term. He is just 18, and old Essex pros such as Keith Fletcher think well enough of him to have recommended him to the people who run Under-19 cricket. Cook is in the Under-19 squad for the winter tour, and yesterday you could see why, even though Wagh bowled him round his legs on 55.

He is a tall left-hander who hooks often enough to have two men back on the boundary, and well enough to stay out of trouble. Cook's defence is sound, and this was his second half-century in his first four Championship innings (he made 69 not out on debut).

Fletcher remarked that Cook and another Essex 18-year-old, Ravinder Bopara, are "the best two young batters since I've been coaching". Only the young Graham Thorpe rivals them in his experience, he said. Fletcher may be exaggerating a bit.

Essex's problem this summer has been the failure of the senior batsmen to score runs. The absence of runs is exposed on the notice board by the men's lavatory at the back of the pavilion. Nasser Hussain has scored well, but he has had only nine innings. Bopara averages 43.33 in five innings, but the experienced players have been well below expectations. Andy Flower, Aftab Habib, Ronnie Irani, Darren Robinson and John Stephenson have failed to earn their corn. Flower was caught behind cutting yesterday for 28. The top scorer was the 20-year old Mark Pettini, whose 67 not out is his best first-class score.

At the start of play yesterday Brown, batting at No 7, reached his 1,000 runs for the season and Waqar brought up the 500 with two smashing sixes as Warwickshire built their lead to 247. No matter how benign the wicket, it will be hard for Essex to produce a match-winning lead. Gooch, the coach, is said to be tearing his hair out. That lets us know how he feels, but it does not solve the problem.

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