Wooden spoon puts pressure on Prichard

Essex 283 and 95 Northants 262 and 120-3 Northants win by 7
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THE BENSON & Hedges trophy may sit gleaming in the pavilion at Chelmsford but unlike numerous county cricketers it will not winter alone. After yesterday's defeat at the less than ruthless hands of Northamptonshire, the wooden spoon will gather dust alongside and remind all who pass during the dark months that not watching Essex can be a pleasure.

The facts are all too revealing. Eleven Championship defeats, the last six consecutive, is a record to shame, such mediocrity achieved that yesterday a partnership approaching 20 received rather muted applause as opposed to the ironic jeers it deserved.

Why those in the crowd bothered to turn up is a mystery and possibly a greater reflection on the other attractions on offer in Essex, one of which this autumn could be the public falling on a sword of the captain, Paul Prichard.

On closer inspection this might appear harsh. A competition won is an undoubted success and he has been hindered by key players missing numerous games through injury, but notwithstanding that it is his own form that could force the decision.

Only 237 runs in 10 matches with a top score of 24 is not good enough for a young novice, let alone the leader, but the blame is not his alone. Darren Robinson, Stuart Law and Paul Grayson have struggled as well, leaving a frail middle order exposed to bowlers fresher and a ball newer than preferable. Form has ever been a fickle mistress and supporters know and accept this but what has disappointed the Essex faithful has been the lack of fight and discipline shown.

All too easily they have folded at the first sign of aggression by the opposition, the tail-enders desperately trying to stay with the combative Ronnie Irani. After 1,002 first-class runs, 41 first-class wickets and an attitude that is more Australian than English (not so long ago a quality desired by the powers in charge), his winter at home twiddling his thumbs is a waste of talent.

Mal Loye will certainly not be twiddling thumbs this winter. In fact his digits will be overworked opening offers from other counties. Upset at the manner that Northamptonshire is being run, he spoke out publicly one month ago stating his disillusionment and desire to jump ship if the method of management did not change. In a wonderfully sympathetic gesture, the supporters acted immediately by refusing to vote him as their player of the year, and in doing so completely ignored his brilliant undefeated triple century and consistently attractive stroke play, an error rectified by the combined professional players, who voted him their player of the year.

If he does leave, and the rumours are that the usual suspects are waiting in the wings armed with cheque books, it will make John Emburey's job as head coach almost untenable. His three years in charge have seen the club go from Championship contenders to the present depths with supporters clamouring for his head. The captain, Kevin Curran, is also under pressure and, with a benefit next year, could decide to jump before he is pushed, all of which leaves the club in a sorry state. Yet 11 months ago it looked so different when they secured Devon Malcolm's signature. Devon who?