Law gives Essex a final send-off

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The Independent Online
reports from The Oval

Surrey 275-5; Essex 278-6 Essex win by 4 wickets

And then there were two - titles left for Surrey to win, that is. Their dreams of a treble were smashed to smithereens, hammered to all parts of The Oval, first by the prolific Australian batsman Stuart Law - what a pity his country needs him for the tour of Sri Lanka later this month, thus probably robbing Essex supporters of him for the final on 7 September - then later by Ronnie Irani and Robert Rollins, with Graham Gooch supplying a more-measured half-century in between.

Essex had gambled on including Law in their semi-final line-up after a last-minute change to the regulations by the Test and County Cricket Board permitting a substitute to take the field should the tie spill over into today.

Law flew home last night for a pre-tour squad get-together, so if he showed indecent haste at times on his way to his fifty, it was understandable. After all, he did have a plane to catch, and Essex a final to reach. They did so with something to spare but not without a few alarms on the way. Surrey's bowlers had been disappointing for the bulk of the Essex innings, but that could not detract from some superlative batting from Law. Successive hundreds from the Australian in the previous two rounds were topped by a 44-ball 53 yesterday which provided a perfect injection of pace to complement the foundations laid by Gooch's two-and-a-half-hour innings.

Gooch and Law compiled a vital third-wicket stand of 96, taking advantage of wayward line and length by the Surrey attack. When Law fell to a fine catch by his fellow countryman Brendon Julian out in the deep, he had caused more than an hour of mayhem. It was Julian who sent a few hearts fluttering into Essex mouths when he later struck with two wickets in an over to dismiss the captain, Paul Prichard, and Darren Robinson, Gooch, the rock of the innings, having been levered out Chris Lewis after 115 balls.

But Irani, who reached a deserved fifty with the winning hit, and Rollins did not panic. They knew they had plenty of time in which to pass the Surrey total. The early-morning conditions had certainly not been ideal for batting so Surrey were at a disadvantage from the off after losing the toss. But the Essex bowlers produced model performances as well, giving the much-vaunted Surrey strokemakers little room for manoeuvre, let alone extravagance.

The captain, Alec Stewart, was the honourable exception. He was there from the start and when the innings finished he wasunbeaten on 125. But there was precious little support from the rest of his crew in the Surrey middle order, which saw Nadeem Shahid promoted ahead of England's Graham Thorpe to come in first wicket down.

Neither batsman fared well enough for the change to be justified, and the only thing that gave the Surrey innings any semblance of adequacy was the sixth-wicket flourish in a little more than six overs between Stewart and Lewis. The England all-rounder thumped three sixes in the 29 balls he faced as he and his Test team-mate knocked up an unbroken 61 between them.

There were one or two heated moments in the Surrey innings, notably when Adam Hollioake stood, possibly in disbelief, when Law took a fine catch out in the deep. The batsman eventually departed once it had been confirmed the ball had carried. Stewart later took exception to a delivery above waist height from Mark Ilott, for which the left-arm paceman was no-balled. Once Ilott indicated his apology, Stewart was appeased. The Surrey innings by then was drawing to a close. At the end Stewart ran off having hit two sixes and nine fours in his three-hour, 45-minute innings. His misery was made complete with the news that Surrey face a fine of pounds 4,620 - almost half their pounds 10,500 prize-money - for falling seven overs behind the required rate.