Walker gives his nervous team-mates a batting lesson

Middlesex 356 & 47-3 Essex 345

While cricket followers across the land ponder the make-up of England's batting order, so one of the many talents to have slipped through the international net over the past decade reminded us once more that his days in the sun are not quite numbered.

While his club-mates Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara, both resigned to the dressing rooms here after Wednesday's batting failures, pondered whether Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott were among the runs at Trent Bridge, so diminutive left-handed batsman Matt Walker set about digging Essex out of a deep hole on day three of this basement battle.

The hugely likeable 35-year-old, a close-season signing from his native Kent, showed the England "wannabes" how it should be done with a seven-hour study in concentration that reaped 150 runs, from 340 balls and with 19 boundaries. On a slow pitch Walker played the type of dogged innings England's selectors are crying out for as they contemplate their side for the Ashes finale.

As a Kentish schoolboy Walker proved a prodigious run machine for King's Rochester, a county hockey star and the first boy to captain England Under-19s on successive overseas tours. Indeed, his first-class debut for the county came only weeks after his 19th birthday on their 1993 tour of Zimbabwe.

He went on to score almost 10,000 runs for the club at an average approaching 37 yet, seemingly without a murmur, he simply became a steady bread-and-butter pro and his call-up for the England senior side never came.

Yet there was a clear sense of pride when the short and portly Walker, known to his mates as "Pumba" after the warthog character in The Lion King, took off his helmet to celebrate a hundred at the home of cricket and his second century in three games for Essex.

In tandem with James Foster, he helped add 163 in 62 overs and though they rarely accelerated the run-rate beyond three an over, they were crucial runs in the context of avoiding defeat in this match as Essex eventually reached 345 to trail by 11 on first innings.

Foster ran himself out in the over after lunch for 72 when attempting a ridiculous single to Nick Compton at cover and Walker's vigil ended when his slog sweep against Murali Kartik flew to deep mid- wicket to be caught in front of the Mound Stand by the same fielder. Kartik duly ran through the Essex tail to finish with three for 55 but seamer Tim Murtagh fully deserved his figures of six for 84.

In the day's remaining overs Middlesex lost Sam Robson, Eoin Morgan and Compton, all to the wiles of wrist-spinner Danish Kaneria, but come stumps it was Walker who wore the broadest of smiles.

Comments