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Match Report
Derek Scott

Although Ireland was once again respectable with the bat the match followed much the same course as against Hampshire with another eight wicket defeat. Ireland had a bad start when put in - the fourth successive lost toss. 20 for three became 99 for three when Morgan and Botha put on 79. Botha survived to be seventh out at 149 but the next highest stands of the innings were two of 27 each for the seventh and eighth wickets. Ireland, in the field, started in great style. Johnston bowled a maiden and John Mooney went one better with a wicket maiden. However only one more wicket fell, at a stage when Essex needed only 31 to win, and by the end they had six overs to spare.

Ireland had only played Essex once before, in a B & H match, again at Chelmsford, and lost by 171 runs when Essex won the toss and made 359-7. The survivors of that match were McCallan for Ireland and Irani for Essex. Irani was now the Essex captain. He made 69 in 1998 and 69 less on this occasion. That match had completed Ireland's "full hand" of playing against all the first class counties. Heavy rain the previous day and on the morning of the match prevented play beginning until noon. 75 minutes were thus lost and the match was reduced to one of 43 overs per side.

Ireland dropped McCoubrey for John Mooney. McCoubrey, in the 3 previous matches, had conceded 74 runs without taking a wicket in 13 overs. Mooney also had a greater batting ability. Paul Mooney, who had been in the party for the previous weekend's matches against Gloucestershire and Glamorgan, was released so that he could play for his club, at the Irish selector's request (he had previously been injured and needed the practice). Porterfield was in the 12 and Wilson was on standby in case Middlesex required Morgan to play for them. Eventually, as the England "A" match against Sri Lanka (in which both Ed Joyce and Shah of Middlesex were playing) ended a day early, they did not. While that was a plus for Ireland, there were also 2 Essex players in the "A" team, Cook and Bopara, and they also were available for Essex. Essex had Adams, who had played one test for New Zealand, the Flower brothers, both Zimbabwean Test players and three English Test players, Irani, Foster and Cook. The latter had made a century on his test debut in the winter against India.

When the toss was made the sun had come out but it was chilly. The pitch was hard, beige coloured, but with a touch of green. Ireland would have fielded first had they won the toss. The outfield was damp and slow on a big ground.

Adams and Palladino, both medium fast, had three wickets after only 5.2 overs. Joyce started with a three, and then a four in the first two overs. In Palladino's second over (the 4th of the match) he drove he first ball for four to wide long-off and the next to mid wicket, again for four, with a "pick-up" shot. To the third he was half forward and was LBW. 17-1-16. With 33 runs in four innings his place may be under pressure but it may not be a good idea to play a new cap in these difficult competitive matches against First Class counties. Langford-Smith came in at no. 3 as a "pinch hitter" but was out to the fourth ball he faced, caught low at first slip by G Flower off Adams in the fifth over. 20-2-1. Worse followed in Palladino's next over. Bray had a nibble with no foot movement and was caught at second slip by Cook. 20-3-3.

In the next six overs Morgan and Botha managed only five runs with four maidens. For over 13 Napier (medium) replaced Adams (6-4-5-1) and Bopara, medium fast, came on for Palladino (7-1-21-2). Scoring improved. Botha pulled a four in Napier's first over and Morgan drove a boundary to extra cover in Napier's second over and hit a straight four in his third. 50 was up in over 19 and Morgan had an escape from a diving slip chance. Three more fours followed and there was a double change after 22 overs with the score on 73. Ten Doeschate, a Dutch International, came on at fast medium pace and Middlebrook (off spin) also came on. Sadly in over 27 the 79 run stand, which had lasted 21 overs, came to an end. Morgan pulled at ten Doeschate, without sufficient movement to the off side, and was caught at deep square leg. 99-4-34. A good innings but a bad end at the wrong time.

Afridi came in and hit a six out of the ground off the first ball he faced (off Middlebrook). In ten Doeschate's next over he hit a leg side half volley up in the air to mid wicket. 107-5-7. In the circumstances it was an irresponsible shot. After his two fine innings the previous weekend Gillespie joined Botha but he did not get going. He is a bad starter. He scored seven in 13 balls and was caught at wide long-on, like Morgan and Afridi going for the big hit and failing. 122-6-7.

McCallan, as always, was careful and reliable. Botha went to 50 with a single in over 33 at 124. He reached this in 103 balls, with four fours. This was his 10th score of over 50 in 48 innings. It was a relief for him after only eight runs in his previous three innings (two of them "ducks"). This pair put on 27 runs in 32 balls. The 37 over score was 149. If Botha stayed in and got support, another 60 or 70 runs was possible. It was not to be. In over 38 Botha went down on one knee to sweep Middlebrook. He missed and was bowled. 149-7-64. Botha's 64 undoubtedly saved the innings He faced 100 balls and hit five fours. Mooney came in and in the six overs left, by robust play, 43 runs were scored by McCallan, Mooney and Saqlain and the full 43 overs were batted out. Adams bowled two expensive overs, 17 runs, in contrast to his first spell.

Ten Doeschate came back for over 41 and bowled McCallan who had a swing. 176-8-20. Mooney followed him, out to the first ball of the last over. This was a good catch by Irani diving forward at mid-on. 182-9-14. Saqlain faced the remaining five balls with Johnston, at number 11, guarding his broken finger. Saqlain cut his first ball for four, straight drove his third for four and was run out of the last ball of the innings attempting a two. 192 was not bad but could have been more if Botha had stayed in. Ireland hit one six and 16 fours. Of Essex's six bowlers four were very inexpensive and shared three wickets between them. Ten Doeschate and Middlebrook each bowled nine overs at a cost of five runs per over but between them took six wickets.

Essex started with two English Test players, Irani and the left handed Cook. The start was a minor sensation particularly as the pitch was improving under the sun. Johnston bowled a maiden to Cook. Irani played five dots to Mooney and snicked the sixth on to his wicket from low on the bat. 0-1-0. G Flower (right handed) came in and Cook hit the first ball from Johnston's next over for four to extra cover. The five over score was 11 when a rate of 4 was required. This soon changed. Cook pulled Mooney for four in the sixth over. Flower took seven off Johnston (7th over) and Cook took 10 off Johnston's fifth and last over (5-1-23-0). Mooney also went off (5-1-16-1) and the 10 over score was 47.

Langford-Smith came on for over 11 in which 50 came up. He bowled two overs for nine runs and Botha bowled three for 11 - the second of these a maiden to Flower. Soon Afridi and Saqlain were on in tandem. Afridi was more expensive and conceded a four to each batsman - Cook's was a snick narrowly missing the leg stump. The 20 over score was 97. In the next over (Afridi) Cook pulled a four and went to 53 out of 101 in 65 balls including eight fours. He looks a fine player, very tall and powerful. He should be in the first Test against Sri Lanka, perhaps replacing Bell. In the next five overs the pace slowed, the score after 25 overs being 114. Now 79 were needed in 18 overs. In his last over Afridi bowled a wide and two no-balls with free hits but the over only cost nine.

McCallan came on for Saqlain but the pitch was too slow for him. Cook hit two fours in his first over and Flower did likewise in his second. His second four took Flower to 53 off 84 balls, with the score on 153. Langford-Smith took over from Afridi and Flower hit him for six over mid-off. Botha came back for McCallan (32nd over). Flower pushed out at his fifth ball, missed, and was bowled. 163-2-61. His innings lasted 92 balls with one six and six fours. The stand between Cook and Flower was 163 in one ball under 30 overs. G Flower was replaced by his brother Andrew, a left hander.

Five more overs brought the 30 required to win. Langford-Smith's three overs in this spell cost 19. In his four matches he has only bowled 18.4 overs for one wicket and no less than 142 runs. The 36th over (Botha) saw A Flower hit a straight six. The 37th over proved to be the last. Johnston bowled it. Cook took fours off the first two balls, a square cut and a drive to long-off. Another single and a leg bye finished the match in 37 overs. Cook was unfortunate not to make a century. He finished at 91 off 104 balls with 12 fours. A very imposing innings.

Seven Irish bowlers were used. Easily the best was J Mooney whose five overs cost 16 runs and he took a wicket. His non-return for another spell seemed strange. The overs of Afridi and Johnston cost five apiece, Botha's and Saqlain's cost four while Langford-Smith's was almost six per over. Saqlain now has three for 130 in 30 overs.

Doug Insole is President of Essex. He and his committee once again showed how hospitable the first class counties are to visitors.