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Somerset v Essex at Bath

Reports from The Electronic Telegraph

17-20 June 1998

Day 1: Truncated play due to rain

A liberal supply of no-balls and long hops in the three overs Ashley Cowan delivered enabled Somerset, who had been put in by Essex, to make the most of the 36 minutes' play that was possible at Bath.

Cowan, short of work in the early weeks of the season due to injury, had dreadful trouble finding his rhythm and was cut and driven for five fours, four of them by Peter Bowler. While he conceded 34 runs, Mark Ilott kept a steady line just outside off stump and was not scored off from 26 balls.

Day 2: Bowler out on his own

By D J Rutnagur at Bath

Second day of four: Somerset 98-1 v Essex

SO extensive is the damage that rain has caused this match that a forecast of sunshine and warmth over the two remaining days offers little consolation. With all the damp that lay around, the ball swung and seamed during the 75 minutes' play but the pitch was a pudding.

Somerset, who profited on Wednesday from the profligacy of Ashley Cowan to gather early momentum, added just 53 runs from 27 overs before lunch. Essex, desperate for their first win of the campaign, could capture only the wicket of Peter Bowler, who was caught on the crease by a ball from Cowan that nipped back.

Mushtaq Ahmed, Somerset's leg-spinner, resorted to practical jokes to amuse himself during the rain. A point was reached when his teammates had had enough so they dragged him out on the ground when the downpour was at its heaviest and left him tied to a chair.

Day 3: Somerset impose go-slow

By D J Rutnagur at Bath

Third day of four: Essex (innings forfeited) need 300 runs to beat Somerset (231 & 68-6 dec)

THE sun made its first appearance in three days, highlighting the glorious surroundings of the Recreation Ground - the tall, Georgian houses of yellow local stone to the east, the backdrop of wooded hills behind North Parade and, on the western side, the majestic tower of the abbey. But it wrought little change in the conditions for business in the middle.

The pitch remained low and turgid and the sodden outfield just as grudging. Essex off-spinner Peter Such managed to get enough purchase to induce two catches to Stephen Peters, who is making quite a reputation for himself as a bat-pad man. But there was no pace or bounce for the seamers to profit from the lateral movement that was on offer. Not that they bowled with any great distinction.

The cricket was slow-moving and the tedium was enhanced by tactics adopted by mutual agreement to set up a run-chase for the final day today.

After bowling out Somerset, who had started the first rain-free day at 98 for one, 10 minutes before tea, Essex forfeited their right of reply.

A deal, it would seem, was struck at lunch and Somerset, going in again, batted in low gear to keep their side of the bargain. They had to add only 68 runs in 2.5 hours to arrive at the equation.

Notwithstanding their self-denial - the reason for which was beyond the comprehension of a large section of a decent crowd - Somerset contrived to lose six wickets in cobbling together this negligible score. At face value, the target would seem extremely generous, but account must have been taken of the adverse batting conditions, Essex's form and Nasser Hussain's absence.

Day 4: Irani steers Essex home with century

By D J Rutnagur at Bath

IN SPITE of a slow pitch and a heavy outfield, no side a few years ago would have dared to challenge Essex to score at a fraction over three an over to win a match. In this instance, though, Somerset left them 96 overs to score 300 and lost the gamble by a wicket after an unbeaten century from Ronnie Irani.

The weather conspired against Essex making a sound start, which is so vital to a run chase. After Friday's bright sunshine, the rain returned to delay the start long enough for eight overs to be lopped off.

But this was the least of Essex's handicaps. The sky remained cloudy, creating the warm, heavy atmosphere so amenable to swing and few counties are better equipped to use such conditions better than Somerset, with Andrew Caddick, Graham Rose and Matt Bulbeck in their armoury.

Predictably, Essex immediately ran into adversity, Rose claiming their openers and Paul Grayson, at No 3, in less than an hour, while only 36 runs were scored. Paul Prichard, playing his first innings since April after suffering with shin splints, was lbw prodding forward.

Grayson struck four crisp boundaries before he met one that left him late to be well-taken by Peter Bowler at second slip. Robinson, who had worked dilligently to dig himself in, was lbw with a ball of very full length.

Stuart Law tried to dispel the growing crisis in the only way he knows, which is by taking the attack to the bowlers, and he rattled off five fours in making 33 off 41 balls. The last of them was a stirring cover-drive off Caddick.

In the same over, he tried to repeat the shot off a ball that was a couple of feet shorter in length and spooned it up to cover. The Australian's departure, 12 minutes after lunch, swung the balance a long way in Somerset's favour.

Play had resumed after the break under clear skies but the bowlers continued to hold the whiphand. Caddick, who had a long spell of nine overs, kept passing the bat but without luck. Young Bulbeck, however, gained further ground for Somerset by having Stephen Peters caught at short leg. This failure of Peters does not alter the view that he has the competence to bat higher than No 6.

Essex now were 84 for five but the gathering gloom did not daunt Irani and Robert Rollins. Irani eschewed risks but was not adverse to striking out anything that he thought was hittable and he made batting look easier than at any time in the match.

Rollins, too, was becoming more perky but it took a long time for Bowler to appreciate that his best chance of a breakthrough was to bring on Mushtaq Ahmed. He gave another seam-up bowler, Marcus Trescothick, a spell before summoning Mushtaq - as late as 35 minutes before tea.

It took a flicked six to long-leg by Rollins off Trescothick to force Bowler's hand. Rollins repeatedly swept the Pakistani but these shots carried a huge element of risk. Mushtaq cried himself hoarse trying to win an lbw verdict against Rollins and by the time his umpteenth appeal was upheld by Alan Whitehead, the pair had put on 76.

Irani was playing with increasing fluency and reached his first fifty of the summer. Danny Law, his new partner, launched an immediate offensive and Essex's target came down to double figures with 31 overs left.

Essex started as the only county in the championship without a win, but this indignity does not seem to have broken their spirit. Somerset, however, had an opportunity to split the ominous Irani-Law partnership at 201 but Bowler, at second slip, failed to hold a snick by Law off the luckless Caddick.

For all the punishment Mushtaq took, he looked the most likely to maintain Somerset's advance but 18 runs off him in one over were more than his captain's nerve could stand and he replaced him with Bulbeck, whom Irani thumped for two hefty on-side fours on the way to his century.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 21 Jun1998 - 07:11