Essex openers leave Hussain in suspense

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Not so much a case of Hamlet without the Prince. More a Hamlet with the Prince fully costumed and made up, raring to go, but never able to make his entrance, despite having an audience that was anxious to see him perform.

Not so much a case of Hamlet without the Prince. More a Hamlet with the Prince fully costumed and made up, raring to go, but never able to make his entrance, despite having an audience that was anxious to see him perform.

The most substantial concentration among a thin crowd for the last day's play at Kidderminster was to be found in the press tent, and they were present to see if Nasser Hussain would regain his batting form after a ghastly run. Unfortunately, Paul Prichard and Paul Grayson made their presence largely redundant. They put on 125 for the first wicket to give Essex an easy victory without ever bothering their captain. Although they had batted well, there was a sense of disappointment that was palpable, as Shakespeare said of the hit.

Hussain had sat on the balcony of the mock Tudor pavilion, padded up, brooding under his England baseball cap. Every movement was observed by the critics: he sat for a while, stood up, loitered in the doorway, and sat down again. The pads stayed on throughout the rapid accumulation of runs by the Essex openers. They were still on with only four to win. He would have been foolhardy to come in to bat then, surely.

Had he scored four, the audience would have judged that it proved nothing. Had he been out, there would have been much clucking and shaking of heads, and his first-class average for the season would have fallen from 12 to 11.

Keith Fletcher, his wily old coach at Essex, commiserated with Hussain: he has been out to a succession of top deliveries this season. "He's got to believe in himself and guts it out," he said.

Fletcher thought Hussain's form suffered when he played only intermittently at the start of the season, but, he added, that was deliberate. He was exhausted from the winter tour and needed time off.

Hussain himself was not in a talking mood. "I just want to spend some time away from the game," he said as he lugged his coffin to the car. And that was that. But, come to think of it, what could he say?

He could have said that Prichard and Grayson had batted with panache to reel off the required runs five minutes before lunch.

Fletcher reminded us that these fairly modest fourthinnings totals can prove awkward. But they started off confidently, and plunged into a purple patch in the middle of the innings, running the score from 31 to 61 with a succession of fours and a violent six by Prichard.

Essex are as concerned with Championship points as with Hussain's form. The win takes them into second place in the tight competition at the top of the Second Division, with 123 points, five behind Northamptonshire.

For their part, Worcestershire slipped back a couple of places. But this was a wicket made for batting, unlike the home pitch at Worcester.

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