Emphatic finale from Hussain

Cricket: Middlesex 150-8 Essex 151-5 (Essex win by five wickets)
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The Independent Online
The battle between the sexes has rarely made pretty viewing. Yesterday was no exception as Essex overcame Middlesex rather more painstakingly than their five-wicket victory would suggest, and it took an assertive unbeaten 67 from Nasser Hussain to see them home.

Chasing low scores are never as easy as they seem as the obsession of keeping wickets in hand can play havoc with the run rate. Essex looked to have fallen into that trap, as Paul Prichard and Graham Gooch fell in quick succession, the latter to the first full-blooded shot of the innings that was brilliantly caught by Paul Weekes at square leg.

It also gave Angus Fraser, who looks a good stone lighter, a welcome early wicket and the old warhorse was somewhere near back to his chuntering best, and a protracted hands-on-hip conversation with Gooch, after the batsman had inside-edged him for four, was clearly not about real estate.

Sadly for Middlesex, he left the field clutching a hamstring just as Hussain and Stuart Law began to take control - the Queenslander breaking an early becalmed period by striding down the pitch to clout David Follett for six over mid-wicket.

Although Fraser later returned, Gatting was forced to use his spinners to keep the pressure on after Richard Johnson, now recovered from his stress fractures of the back, and Follett strayed. However, well though they bowled, the momentum the Australian and his vice-captain gave to Essex proved unstoppable and the home team won with seven overs to spare.

Chelmsford has not been fertile Benson & Hedges territory for Gatting's men. Before yesterday they had lost four out of five, a sequence that never looked like being disturbed once they had lost the toss and been inserted.

Caution was therefore understandable. Having each lost their previous matches in this competition, this was an important game for both sides and neither frittered away wickets by employing a pinch hitter. Neither had passed 30 by the time 15 overs had been bowled.

Middlesex, batting without the ameliorating effects of several hours of sunshine and a second heavy roller, owed most of their total to Mark Ramprakash and John Carr. The pair contributed 91, Carr putting bat to ball and driving straight with a ringing crispness that stood out amongst Ramprakash's more cautious dabs and clips.

Both reached well deserved fifties, though Ramprakash's was the more remarkable in that it did not include a single boundary from the 114 balls faced. Both should have gone on, but the probings of Peter Such saw both sky catches from rash shots.

Backed up by some tenacious ground fielding, Mark Ilott, who seems to have returned invigorated after a frustrating winter of injury for England, took four wickets. He, too, was probably in contention for the Gold Award until Hussain decided to win the game in emphatic style striking Johnson for three fours in what proved to be the final over.

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