Notts let victory slip from grasp

County Championship: Essex display sharp sting in the tail and Maynard leads Glamorgan's great escape
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The Independent Online

It would be mischievous, if not wholly libellous, to suggest that the match which finished here yesterday was typical Second Division fare. Since the Second Division is in its infancy it is too early to tell. Still, evidence is what the ICC keep banging on about requiring, and evidence there was.

Some of the bowling with the new ball by both sides was pretty inept. All the exponents on view insisted, intermittently, on using both sides of the pitch when one is quite enough. The batting was fairly loose too, except by the Essex tail, who were admirable. In addition, Notts dropped five catches in making a porridge of bowling out Essex in their second innings, leaving themselves a stiffer target than strictly necessary.

In mitigation of all that, the game was intriguing throughout and possessed the not inconsiderable merit of going into the fourth day. This is what four-day cricket is meant to do, yet only one of the four First Division contests in last week's round of matches made the fourth morning, and that only struggled there.

There might be something in the suspicion that three of the latter were played on northern grounds not exactly renowned for producing enduring cricket but all the games in the bottom tier went the distance.

Notts, who began the day as overwhelming favourites, all-owed the match to slip out of their grasp. They needed only three wickets before they could begin their pursuit, but it took them until after lunch to acquire them. Essex profited and there was a chance as the final session got into its stride that they might snatch an unlikely victory. It ended ultimately in an honourable draw.

Both these counties have aspirations to much greater things. Essex were a splendid side for 15 years from the late Seventies but they have fallen from grace in the past couple of seasons. Somehow, they do not exude either the hard-nosed professionalism or the enjoyment which were the hallmarks of the teams of yore.

But within their ranks they have Stuart Law, a prolific (and hard-nosed) Australian, the England captain, Nasser Hussain, whose pride in playing for Essex is hardly less than that he derives from playing for England, and Ronnie Irani, whose middle name is apparently Charles but could be Perseverance.

Notts, who have been fairly uninspiring for five years, in all of which they finished in the bottom half of the old Championship, have demonstrated that they mean business by signing Shoaib Akhtar of Pakistan. For the moment, they need both his speed and his charisma. The paucity of their youthful ranks was shown by their winter recruitment of the batsmen Darren Bicknell and John Morris.

In their differing ways, both are batsmen above the average, which is shown in their respective career averages of 39 and 37. But Bicknell will be 33 in June, Morris is 36, and these days it is a matter of debate whether his batting, always easy on the eye, is as expansive as his girth. Their enlistment does not say a great deal for the young bloom of English batting talent.

Matters began well enough for Notts. The eighth and ninth Essex wickets fell in more or less regulation order when Tim Mason edged to slip and Mark Ilott pushed one to gully. At this point Essex were 201 for 9, a mere 135 ahead with 81 overs left in the day.

Notts then put down two chances. They were both sharp, Paul Franks performing an unsuccessful juggling act to a return drive which went to his right when he was moving to his left and Jason Gallian diving wide to his left at slip, but they cost the side dearly.

Ashley Cowan and Ricky Anderson, the beneficiaries, proceeded to flourish. Anderson, famously hired last summer after turning up as a pre-season net bowler, was the more cultured. They put on an irksome and significant 62.

This now presented Notts with an order the other side of tall. They had to go for the runs on a pitch getting a touch slower but still with a hint of bite. To do so risked losing wickets, which they did.

The early Essex bowling was not uniformly accurate, but among the swine were pearls. Notts had already lost their openers and when Gallian edged a beauty from Anderson which swung and produced a splendid catch from Hussain at slip, and Paul Johnson effected an ugly pull which resulted only in a bottom edge on tohis stumps, they were uncomfortable.

They were more uncomfortable after Morris committed a double act of folly. No sooner was he put down in the deep than he wafted a loose drive and was held at the wicket. That was unforgivably poor cricket by a senior professional.

Chris Read hung around but then chipped to mid-on. Defeat was again possible, but a match never short of fascination was called off only when two overs were left.