Nottinghamshire collapse in the face of mediocrity

Essex 203 &amp; 359 Nottinghamshire 79 &amp; 215 <i>Essex win by 268 runs</i>
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The Independent Online

Having been pipped to the Second Division title by Essex in the final game of last season, Nottinghamshire began this match believing they could prove a point and show themselves to be better equipped for the leading group. How wrong they were.

Having been pipped to the Second Division title by Essex in the final game of last season, Nottinghamshire began this match believing they could prove a point and show themselves to be better equipped for the leading group. How wrong they were.

Essex won by 228 runs with more than four sessions to spare. Victory was completed at ten to three yesterday afternoon, allaying all fears that storms would arrive to deny them a first win of the season. Without Ashley Cowan, John Stephenson and Ronnie Irani - all injured - their attack looks lightweight at this level. But the last three days here suggest Nottinghamshire are the team with problems.

Given the horrendous mess they had found themselves in on Friday afternoon, when this historic ground seemed likely to witness only the 28th instance in first-class cricket of a team dismissed for fewer than 20 runs, it was perhaps unrealistic to suggest they could have avoided defeat. A target of 484 to win was never more than theoretical.

Nonetheless, they should have been good enough to survive the day on a pitch where Aftab Habib had scored 151 and James Foster 85 on Saturday. However, after Jason Gallian and Usman Afzaal, unbeaten overnight, had been parted in the 14th over of the morning, Nottinghamshire slipped into steady decline.

The lavish swing exploited so superbly by Scott Brant and Jonathan Dakin as Nottinghamshire flirted with cricket's lowest-ever total on Friday was evidently harder to reproduce in yesterday's fresher conditions. Yet it did not matter to Essex, who found their opponents submissive instead to James Middlebrook's tidy off- spin and Graham Napier's accurate but hardly fearsome medium pace. Uneven bounce was by no means the only culprit.

Afzaal and Gallian departed in quick succession, after which it was the Nottinghamshire middle order that provided the biggest disappointment.

A high measure of resilience was needed here to protect a long tail but Kevin Pietersen, Bilal Shafayat and Chris Cairns all played themselves in and got themselves out. Pietersen chipped tamely to short mid-wicket, Shafayat carved carelessly to point and Cairns, who had looked capable of giving the crowd some fun at least, was bowled making room to cut.

Whether Essex win another match remains to be seen. Their batting generally has been unimpressive: Habib's hundred was the first from any of their batsmen this season and they will be lucky to come up against another opponent in such woeful form as Nottinghamshire are currently.

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