Hampshire grab lifeline

Cricket: Essex 246 and 442-8 dec Hampshire 161 and 3-0
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The Independent Online
Rain may be something that is desperately needed around the country, but droughts are still the preference of those whose teams are in the ascendancy, as Essex are here. With only 15 overs play possible, however, the rejoicing was not just confined to those in the farming sector, as Hampshire, needing 528 to win, gleefully huddled aboard the temporary life raft thrown them as a leaden sky dropped its load.

With rain forecast, many thought it curious that Essex batted on at all, given that they were already 459 runs ahead when play started on time. But bat they did, the extra 14 overs giving Ronnie Irani plenty of time to reach an unbeaten 123, the best of his career.

But well though Irani played, in the context of this game, battering the likes of Hampshire's lightweight attack is unlikely to bring about the necessary improvements needed to cope with the hurly-burly of Test match cricket. Being the forgotten man on a tour where the cricket was eminently forgettable is not something that particularly bodes well for the future.

When he first came into the frame for Test selection, Graham Gooch's admiration for his desire to succeed probably went a long way to securing his selection. Once, when someone asked him what the difference was between Chris Lewis and Ronnie Irani, Gooch answered, "You'll see the answer in Ron's eyes. You only have to look into them to see the lad wants it bad."

But wanting is not always getting as Irani found out in Zimbabwe and New Zealand last winter, when he spent most of his time driving the drinks cart.

Having picked him as a batsman who could do a job with the ball, the England management suddenly moved the goalposts, even going as far as to instruct Ian Botham, enlisted as a part-time bowling coach, to improve his bowling and turn him into a proper all-rounder. In Zimbabwe, Botham worked his new charge hard, but once the trout streams of New Zealand came into view, the tuition dried up.

Irani is a player whose game thrives on confidence. Away from familiar faces and county colleagues who rated him, his confidence probably took its biggest dent to date. As a result, his batting, the dominant part of the package he offers as a player, suffered horribly.

Whether this hundred will hinder or help his future chances of Test cricket remains to be seen. What is beyond dispute, however, particularly on the evidence of this match, is that he can be a match-winner for Essex with both bat and ball. Not long ago, that was as good a starting point as any to relaunch an international career.

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