Irani hammers home his point

Cricket: Essex 246 and 373-7 Hampshire 161
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Like a defrosting vindaloo, the last two days at Chelmsford have fluctuated between extremes. With 17 wickets falling on the first day, the umpires were forced to report it to Lord's as the seam bowlers of both sides enjoyed an early season bonanza.

But if the alarm bells were ringing, the arrival yesterday of the pitch inspector, Harry Brind, coincided with batting at its most thrilling as Stuart Law and Ronnie Irani belted the Hampshire bowling to all parts of the ground. In the end it was obvious that tea and cake and not 25 points had to be dispensed as Essex, with three wickets standing, increased their overnight lead to a massive 458.

Essex's ascendancy in this match is owed to a multitude of efforts, none more than the two half-centuries by their captain Paul Prichard. But if Prichard fashioned the coffin lid, it was Law and Irani who began to drive the nails home, the latter ending the day unbeaten on 95 in a display clearly intended to stick two fingers up at his critics over the winter.

Irani provided the muscle and Law turned on the style as he brought up his 49-ball fifty with a scorching cover drive. Few batsmen keep the face of the bat going through the ball longer than Law, which is why so few deliveries ever seem to beat him.

Like many of his fellow countrymen, Law is blessed with unquestioning confidence and a powerful weight of stroke. Unlike most Australians who get to represent their country at Test level, he is a one-cap wonder.

At 28, youth is not quite on Law's side and his chances of adding to his tally have now receded. Nevertheless, the absence from the Australian squad of such a sparkling talent merely brings home the enormity of the task facing England's bowlers this summer.

At Essex, however, he is cherished and last season, in all competitions, he scored 12 centuries for the county, including three against Hampshire. It should have been another yesterday, but a restrictive field stopped his run spree and he succumbed to the Hampshire captain John Stephenson as he attempted to uppercut a bouncer over the slips.

Having had a belated bowl in the first innings, Stephenson was forced into the fray much earlier, despite having been involved in a serious car crash the previous evening. He finished the day with three wickets, including that of his old opening partner Graham Gooch, who was trapped lbw as he fell across his shot.

With Cardigan Connor unable to operate as well as he did on the opening day, it was left to journeymen like Kevan James to do the donkey work into a strengthening wind.

At the age of 36, James did a good job for Hampshire, taking three wickets, but his presence, along with many like him, are not really doing a service to cricket. It is a point Lord's must address if we are to see the saplings beyond the dead wood.

Fortunately, youth had its head as well and the ever-improving Ashley Cowan, Essex's 21-year-old fast bowler, took a career-best 5 for 49.