Shah evokes youthful promise
Essex 180 and 217 for 2 (Shah 124*, Mickleburgh 73) lead Hampshire 229 (Ervine 43, Topley 3-59) by 168 runs
A commonplace remark was made after Andrew Strauss announced his retirement last week. It was that Owais Shah, when a young cricketer making his way alongside Strauss with Middlesex, was the better prospect.
If coaches and colleagues speculated which of the two might play in 100 Test matches, they settled on the right-hander with an array of shots not seen since Mark Ramprakash was attracting similar notices.
Strauss has had the stellar career, but at least Shah is still playing. His has been a mixed and wet summer, but that has been the case with so many batsmen. A century against Glamorgan, one half-century and a string of twenties and thirties until he came out to bat here with Essex still in arrears as a result of insufficient runs in their first innings. A second, unbeaten century was the upshot, one brimming with fluent drives in easier conditions than on the first day.
How Essex required this contribution, even if they had done markedly well to restrict Hampshire to a first-innings lead of only 49, taking their remaining six wickets in the morning for just 64 runs. When Tom Westley was held at second slip, playing away from his body at David Balcombe, Shah's side were in need of a long partnership. He and Jaik Mickleburgh provided one.
They put on 193 in 60 overs for the second wicket. Why Shah has not achieved more is a judgement best left to the likes of Graham Gooch and Keith Fletcher. Suffice to say he is still a delight to watch. Having reached a half-century off 72 balls with ten fours, he struck Liam Dawson, who in the absence of Danny Briggs was given a supportive spin role to the medium pacers, straight for six and then, next ball, drove him along the ground to the long-on boundary. There were some low-slung pulls and the running between the wickets was eager.
His century came up with his 18th four, driven past mid-off. Sean Ervine was the hapless bowler. At this point Shah had double Mickleburgh's tally - 100 to 52 - but that was just as well. The situation required one of the batsmen to accumulate, or, if nothing else, simply to stay in. Too many Essex wickets have fallen too cheaply in this match and plenty more runs will be required on the third day. Mickleburgh was finally caught at slip off Simon Katich's underused unorthodox left-arm spin, having made 73 off 206 balls with ten fours.
What to make of the pitch? As with most cut by Nigel Gray this season, it has played better after the first three or four sessions. At the outset, grass is left on for the benefit of the side winning the toss.
Reece Topley, bowling from the pavilion end, took three wickets in quick succession upon resumption in the morning, having James Vince caught behind, Bilal Shafayat at gully without addition and Michael Bates leg-before aiming to mid-on.
David Balcombe was leg-before to Maurice - pronounced with felicitation by John White, the tannoy announcer - Chambers; Ervine, having made 43, was held at deep square leg and Hampshire, all in all, had batted only a little less indifferently than Essex, at a time when they have to extend their splendid form in one-day cricket into the first-class game if they are to be promoted.