James Foster leads from front to boost promotion hopes


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With a little help from their neighbours from across the Thames Estuary, Essex are still well in the hunt for promotion to the First Division of the County Championship. It took them only two days to see off a desperately poor Leicestershire, while Hampshire’s chances of defeating Kent at the Rose Bowl look remote. 

The race for the second promotion place will almost certainly not be concluded until the final round of matches next week.

Essex, in third place, picked up 22 points, precisely the number by which they trailed Hampshire at the start of this round. Whatever points Hampshire can take from their match will be their advantage when they travel to Glamorgan and Essex take on Worcestershire – already promoted, but chasing the title – at Chelmsford.

A fine 132 from James Foster, their captain, put Essex in a position to claim a fifth win in six matches. It gave his side a lead of 196, which was always likely to be a winning one, although they might have expected to bat again. In the event, Leicestershire did not even go close to demanding that of their opponents, capitulating for 117. They lost their last six wickets for four runs in less than six overs, a collapse so rapid that Essex, who had been thinking about claiming the extra half-hour to save themselves a further night’s hotel bill, did not even need to ask.

Jamie Porter, a nippy right-arm seam bowler making only his second first-class appearance, removed Angus Robson, Ned Eckersley and Dan Redfern in an impressive opening spell but what followed was as much down to the poverty of Leicestershire’s batting as to anything noteworthy on the bowlers’ part.

Essex lost four wickets in adding 82 when conditions were relatively tricky on a misty morning. Ravi Bopara, who had matched Foster for diligence in more than three hours at the crease, fell for 49, dragging the ball into his stumps after being tempted by a wide loosener from Rob Taylor. His dismissal prompted a mini-collapse in which loose shots from Jesse Ryder and Kishen Velani helped Taylor to a five-wicket haul.

Foster was a model of application and the reverse-sweep off the off-spinner, Jigar Naik, with which he reached his century was a rare extravagance. David Masters helped add 89 runs for the eighth wicket to claim a third batting point. How valuable might that be?