Stephenson forgets important lesson

Cricket: Essex 246 Hampshire 103-7
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The Independent Online
It is three years since John Stephenson departed Chelmsford for greener pastures and the captaincy of Hampshire. Even so, he should still remember the perils inherent in being seduced into bowling first by an Essex greentop that claimed 17 wickets in the day.

The first rule is you need some decent bowlers, a criterion only Cardigan Connor satisfied for the visitors with his wily 7 for 46. The second is that you do not want to bat until day two, a discovery Hampshire made when they ended the day on 103 for 7, some 143 runs behind. Having won the toss Stephenson probably contemplated some kind of ascendancy. Instead having dismissed Essex for 246, his team were facing annihilation in three days.

With Robin Smith missing due to an Achilles tendon strain, Hampshire, despite the addition of their Australian import Matthew Hayden, were always under-strength. It was a fact Essex's superior firepower with the ball soon exploited. Ashley Cowan, in particular, proved a real handful, taking the first three wickets, including the prized scalp of Hayden, caught off his glove as he tried to swivel on to a bouncer.

A tall man with a high action, the 21-year-old Cowan has the ability to generate good pace off a short run and he finished the day with figures of 4 for 35. He was well supported by Ronnie Irani, who did for Kevan James, bowling him playing back, as well as for Stephenson whose bat and pad catch was taken by Darren Robinson at short-leg.

But if Essex relied on team work, Hampshire were almost solely reliant on the 36-year old Connor, currently enjoying a benefit year. To the envy of many, Connor has something of a reputation for being able to dismiss Graham Gooch, a distinction upheld when he had the great man, now in his 24th season with Essex, lbw.

But if that was the one they wanted, Hampshire's spirits quickly flagged as Paul Prichard and Nasser Hussain went about the reconstruction, adding 97 for the second wicket, before Hussain had his off bail trimmed by a leg-cutter from Connor, who had by now changed to the River End.

With Prichard lbw on the stroke of lunch for a fluent 65, the stage was set for Stuart Law, left out of the Australian touring party, to reassert his impressive credentials. Adding a rapid 53 with Ronnie Irani, he looked untroubled until he was lbw, whipping across a straight ball from Dimitri Mascarenhas.

It left Irani contemplating the belligerent role he likes best and one, for Essex at least, in which he excels. Having pummelled a couple of scorchers through the covers off the back foot, he was out one short of his half- century when he tamely skied a leading edge to James at cover.

That was Connor's fifth wicket and it was not long before he and Stephenson, having a belated bowl, polished off the tail, unaware of the ruin that lay ahead.