Prichard ready to usher in life after Gooch

Adam Szreter talks to the Essex captain looking for his first trophy
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The Independent Online
Twelve years ago Derek Pringle of Essex ran in to bowl the last ball of the NatWest Trophy final to Nottinghamshire's Derek Randall. The previous five deliveries had been dispatched by Randall to all parts of Lord's, bringing Nottinghamshire within a whisker of a famous and highly unlikely victory. Having started the over as favourite, Pringle now ran in probably fearing the worst. But Randall, exhausted, chipped the ball tamely to midwicket and the young Paul Prichard, running in, took the catch that won the match.

At that time Prichard, just 20, was in his second season and Essex were in the middle of a period of dominance which garnered 11 trophies in 13 years. Now Prichard is their captain and, approaching the end of his third term of office, he is still waiting for his first success.

Inevitably it has been hard to live up to the years of plenty under Keith Fletcher and Graham Gooch. "You feel the pressure of that," Prichard says. "Both of those captains had a lot of success but it's a question of harnessing the pressure and making it work for you.

"I don't particularly feel pressure from the club or anybody else; it's just the pressure you put on yourself to be successful because you want it very badly - for the club, for the supporters and for yourself."

Having slipped out of the reckoning for the Championship and the Axa Life League, tomorrow's final against Warwickshire represents Prichard's last chance this summer. But if they lose, Prichard is not about to jump off the nearest bridge; if that was the case, last year's final, played on a dreadful pitch, would have given him more than enough reason. Chasing Lancashire's 186, Essex were all out for 57 shortly before 5.30pm.

"It's all right," Prichard says, laughing at the tentative way in which the subject is broached. "It's not the first time I've ever talked about it. I don't believe in just not talking about something bad that happens, going away and hiding under the duvet for three weeks or something; it's not quite me. But it was a terrible shame. We were cruelly disappointed to be bowled out for 57 on such a big day and everyone in Essex, not just the players, felt it."

One significant change Prichard has made from last season is to return to the opener's position he occupied in the early part of his career, but while one experienced Essex opener will emerge from the Long Room at some stage tomorrow, another, the recently retired Graham Gooch, will be conspicuous by his absence.

"For someone like myself, and all the 16 years I've been here, Goochie's been a major part of it and it's strange to walk into a dressing room without him," Prichard says.

"But the time comes for everyone and things have to move forward. What Graham's done for his county and his country is phenomenal, and he is missed in the dressing room not only as a player but as a person as well - even for his sense of humour."

Essex's one-day success this season has been built around the powerful batting of their Australian all-rounder Stuart Law opening with Prichard. "We've been getting fairly good starts and everybody's been doing their job at the right time lower down," Prichard says.

"We've won a lot of quite tight games, we haven't really smashed anyone and batsmen have had to play well under pressure. Even if they're only getting 15 or so it's a quick 15 at the right time, like Danny Law in the semi-final against Waqar when the game was slipping away from us."

That match, against Glamorgan, was one that Prichard was forced to miss with a pulled hamstring, but thanks to Robert Croft and Mark Ilott's altercation it is not one he is likely to forget in a hurry. "There were one or two unsavoury incidents that have been dealt with and it doesn't really need me to harp on about them," Prichard says.

"But over 120 overs there was some very good cricket played by both sides and I just find it a shame, and slightly bewildering, that the brilliant cricket was overshadowed by one or two isolated incidents."

Fisticuffs, or even handbags, against Warwickshire seem unlikely despite the importance of the occasion: "We've got a fair bit of respect for each other as clubs and teams, which is always nice," Prichard says. "They're a competitive side, as we are, but we get on well."

And as to what victory would mean to the Billericay-born Prichard? "Hard to put into words really," he says. "I don't think I'll be able to answer that until it happens - if it happens. It would mean a lot."