Gooch in charge

Essex 389 and 332 Worcestershire 276 and 40-1
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If it's VE Day tomorrow, victory for Essex, the home side owe much to their former commander and stalwart foot soldier, Graham Gooch. He was in awesome form yesterday, dominating some very pedestrian Worcestershire bowling while compiling his 115th first-class hundred. Made from just 189 balls, his 165 featured two sixes and 21 fours and upped his first- class runs for the season to 482 from four innings.

They were even coming over the wall to see Gooch, one man almost dropping on your correspondent in the process. If he wasn't apprehended, the intruder certainly got his money's worth, so to speak. True, he missed Gooch's opening salvo, successive boundaries from the first two balls of the innings, but as Gooch's momentum and the day's heat intensified there was an endless stream of strokes to admire.

Against the faster bowlers, Gooch stood his ground to drive, pull, glide or cut. To Richard Illingworth's left-arm spin, he advanced down the wicket several paces and still had time to pick his spot along the off-side boundary. Heaven knows what dilemma will face the England selectors if he continues in this manner; if he does, though, they'll be no shortage of county bowlers proposing his recall.

Having picked up the last two Worcestershire wickets early on, with off- spinner Peter Such taking his innings tally to six, Essex quickly built on their 113-run lead through a pre-lunch century stand involving Gooch and Paul Prichard, his successor as captain. Scratchy to start, Prichard soon matched Gooch run for run, and after the loss of two wickets early in the afternoon Nasser Hussain presented an attractive foil to Gooch's broadsword as they added 123 for the third wicket.

When Gooch was caught at gully off a swirling edge, Essex were 412 ahead and it scarcely mattered that they lost six wickets for 43 after tea. This left Worcestershire a target of 446 from 131 overs and the prospect of facing Such and John Childs tomorrow on a dry, dusty pitch. With Graeme Hick and Tom Moody on hand to combat them, it could be quite a day.