30 wickets fall in day of Luton madness

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reports from Luton

Essex 127 and 107 Northamptonshire 46 and 1-0

Madness has traditionally been associated with Luton, but the fall of 30 wickets here yesterday, on the first of what was supposed to be a four- day match, capped any insanity that a hatter could have perpetrated. Even in a summer where the clatter of wickets over the first two or three days has rapidly become the norm, this was an extraordinary three sessions of cricket. And yet at the end of a crazy day, the umpires Bob White and David Constant confirmed that there was no question of the pitch being reported as unfit.

Despite all the concern the early finishes have caused about the standard of play in the Championship, it has to be said that few of the dismissals were the result of poor shots. For the most part, the deluge of wickets was due to the accuracy of all the bowlers, and deliveries that seamed and swung all day in heavy overcast conditions.

But out of it all emerged some good news. Mark Ilott, the Essex left- arm paceman, took a career-best 9 for 19 to stake a strong claim for an England recall for the Lord's Test against the West Indies next week. Ilott capped an extraordinary demonstration of swing bowling with a hat- trick of lbws.

It is the second time that the genial Ilott has achieved such a hat-trick. The first time came when he was playing for Watford Town Under-15s, but he had the grace to admit: "My Dad, John, was umpiring. I remember I kept shouting out 'Owzat, Dad?."

In all, Ilott was awarded six first-innings lbw decisions, including the hat-trick victims Jeremy Snape, Anil Kumble and Neil Mallender, and all of them were from the aptly named Stockingstone Road End, courtesy of the umpire Bob White, who awarded a total of 11 lbws in the day, compared with a modest two from his colleague David Constant.

Ilott's destructive burst of 9 for 11 in 36 deliveries reduced Northamptonshire to 46 all out in 20.1 overs. He is the second bowler to treat the Championship leaders like ninepins in seven days. Derbyshire's Dominic Cork took 9 for 43 against them exactly a week ago.

It made Allan Lamb's decision to put Essex in after winning the toss, on a cold overcast morning, look a little misjudged. Not that it seemed so in the morning, when the ball seamed around, particularly for David Capel. He finished with a season's-best 5 for 29.

The only man to emerge with any honour from Essex's 127 all out was their wicketkeeper, Robert Rollins. His 76-ball half century prevented the sort of calamity which subsequently engulfed Northamptonshire when they set off at 3.05pm. An hour and 40 minutes later, they were all out.

But heavy atmosphere and the Luton wicket, which was under water a couple of weeks ago, had not finished. This time it was the turn of another former England man, Northamptonshire's Paul Taylor. Like Ilott he has just a couple of Test appearances to his credit and like Ilott he is a left-arm bowler of some pace.

This time Essex found an unlikely batting hero in the off-spinner, Peter Such, who showed scant regard for Taylor in carting him for a six as he and Darren Cousins compiled a gutsy ninth- wicket stand of 35. Taylor's final analysis was a summer's-best 7 for 50 as Essex subsided to 107 all out in 28.1 overs. His two wickets in the first meant that left-arm pace had accounted for 18 wickets in the three innings.

At the breathless close, Northamptonshire, needing to reach 189 runs to win, had scored one without, incredibly, losing a wicket. That may have had something to do with the fact that Lamb had sent in the No 11, Neil Mallender, to steer them safely in.

More cricket, page 27

How an extraordinary day unfolded

ESSEX - First Innings

(Start 11.0am)

Gooch 11.09am

Robinson 11.41

Waugh 11.54

Prichard 12.26pm

Irani 12.28

Hussain 2.04

Ilott 2.09

Such 2.13

Cousins 2.24

Childs 2.55

Rollins not out

NORTHANTS - First Innings

(Start 3.05pm)

Loye 3.34

Bailey 3.37

Lamb 3.59

Warren 4.02

Curran 4.09

Montgomerie 4.35

Snape 4.37

Taylor 4.39

Capel 4.42

Kumble 4.45

Mallender not out

ESSEX - Second Innings

(Start 4.55pm)

Robinson 5.24

Waugh 5.38

Hussain 5.46

Gooch 5.49

Prichard 5.57

Rollins 6.16

Ilott 6.18

Irani 6.28

Such 6.56

Cousins 7.03

Childs not out