Robinson makes opening statement

Cricket: Essex 373 and 224-8 Durham 288
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The Independent Online
THE release of Nick Knight to Warwickshire may have caused some qualms at Chelmsford, but they would have been eased yesterday when 22- year-old Darren Robinson cemented his place as Graham Gooch's opening partner. Robinson is a solidly built performer, understandably cautious on the journey between his previous highest score of 67 and his maiden century, but clearly capable of a more aggressive role.

Early on he unfurled two hooks worth four and six to successive balls from the Indian Test bowler Manoj Prabhakar, which demonstrated both his confidence at this level and the folly of pitching short on such a benign wicket. By the time Mark Waugh was out lbw shortly after lunch, Robinson was cocky enough to ask the disgruntled Australian star to ferry a surplus sweater to the dressing room. Ironically, the circumstances asked more for a blitz of quick runs from Essex, but the club will be warmed by the emergence of such a promising talent.

Their breakfast plans would have had the home side batting early, having brushed aside Durham's 10th wicket, declaring in the early evening with a Monday cushion of some 350 runs. But to everyone's surprise the prologue to the day lasted over an hour, and it required the extra bounce of the new ball to end the 50-run partnership between Simon Brown and James Boiling.

Maybe Brown was not surprised, however. In Durham's only previous Championship match at Chelmsford, he and Phil Bainbridge scored 60 for the same wicket, and in a game where both tails begin at No 7 he is not flattered by occupying Durham's bottom berth. Though Essex would point out that their strike bowlers, Mark Ilott and Neil Williams, are injured, this was a spirited performance to upset home calculations.

Graham Gooch has scored more Championship runs than anyone this year, but his timing went back into hibernation yesterday: he soon snicked Prabhakar low and wide to Durham keeper David Ligertwood.

Nasser Hussain has also started the season well, averaging nearly 50, and after Waugh's dismissal he raised the tempo. But it was far too brief, and skipper Paul Prichard, Ronnie Irani and the Essex tail made only guest appearances.

Robinson's pleasant memories of this game will certainly be share by former Northamptonshire seamer Alan Walker. His first-innings eight for 118 was the best ever performance by a visitor to Chelmsford, comfortably a career best, and evening cow- shots helped raise his tally to a dozen. Any hopes Essex had of a dart at Durham before stumps had dissolved long before that.

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