Essex maintain their grip

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reports from Colchester

Essex 235-5 Hampshire 199-9 Essex win by 36 runs

The Sunday League, like the County Championship, is building up to quite a climax. Essex maintained their lead at the top of the table with this victory over Hampshire, although there are a number of teams hard on their heels and one or two with matches in hand.

Castle Park was full for its annual Sunday League outing and, with Essex leading the pack in this competition, the spectators were in good voice, especially when Mark Ilott was involved. For Hampshire, the slow turning wicket has been something of a nightmare but, in all honesty, over the last four days neither side has looked to be made of the stuff of champions.

After being forced to field in high heat for a day and a half in the four-day game, the Hampshire bowlers must already have been regarding this ground as a less than charitable venue. They may not altogether have agreed with their captain's decision to field.

None the less, on the slow pitch which did nothing to encourage optimism with any sort of bowling, they stuck to their task pretty well.

Mark Nicholas captains Hampshire with something of a swagger and does a good job too. He knows what he wants, yet is always talking to his bowlers and presumably listening to their needs. They call him Jardine and he seems to be an updated, democratic Jardine.

He will have decided to bowl probably because he felt that Hampshire had their best chance chasing a total rather than giving that opportunity to Essex with their explosive, if rather inconsistent, batting line up.

Essex set off at a good pace, reaching 50 in their 12th over, but every time it began to look as if they were on their way to a really big total, a wicket fell.

Only Mark Waugh and Nasser Hussain reached fifties. Waugh was run out when he and Hussain got into a muddle over a second run to deep cover. And three overs before the end of the innings Hussain drove at a wide one and was caught behind.

Hampshire also reached 50 in the 12th over, although by then Paul Whitaker had played the ball into his stumps pulling at Steve Andrew, once of Hampshire. At 68, Matthew Keech swung Peter Such to deep midwicket and, rather as Essex had done earlier, the Hampshire batsmen were getting themselves out when they had done the hard work and played themselves in.

Nicholas then joined Sean Morris and played much the most convincing innings for Hampshire, even if he is not quite as nippy between the wickets as he once was. When he was on four he was dropped at deep mid-wicket off Such. By way of celebration, he then straight drove him for two massive sixes.

Nicholas lost Morris, and John Stephenson was caught at deep cover. Kevan James drove his first ball to extra cover but, effectively, the end came for Hampshire when, to the crowd's delight, Nicholas drove Graham Gooch, in his first over, gently to cover.