Bailey hits the mark

Northants 364 & 216 v Essex 275 & 290 Northants win by 15 runs
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Some injudicious cricket by both sides provided a large crowd with a nail-biting finish. In the end, though, this was a match decided by a piece of brilliant fielding from the Northamptonshire captain, Rob Bailey.

With Essex just 16 runs short of victory, Bailey dived full-length to his right at second slip, before throwing down the batsman's stumps with a direct hit. Paul Grayson was left stranded as he attempted to scramble a quick single. Northamptonshire had gained their second Championship win of the season and prevented Essex from going top of the table. The visitors had only themselves to blame.

Essex took just nine balls in the morning to close the Northamptonshire innings, and the target of 306 appeared to be at least 40 too few on a blameless pitch, especially when one considers the strength in depth of the Essex batting line-up.

They started briskly as Paul Taylor, so often the backbone of the Northamptonshire bowling, struggled to find his rhythm from the pavilion end, supplying a tasty array of leg-stump half volleys and wide long hops.

He was replaced in the eighth over by Scott Boswell, who struck almost at once when Graham Gooch drove airily to mid-off. Taylor dived forward and to his right to catch the ball centimetres from the ground.

For years, opposition bowlers have wondered if they would get Gooch out. Now they are wondering when and for how few, and it cannot be long before he gracefully steps aside and allows younger players a chance. His pride in performance is well-known, and he must realise that this year has not been a good one.

Nasser Hussain mis-hooked twice just short of fielders, and his poor form since his heroic double-century in the first Test continued when he edged Mohammad Akram to the wicketkeeper three balls after lunch.

At 92 for 2, Essex were still in control and their grip on the game tightened as Stuart Law thrashed the bowling to all parts of the ground in a quickfire 45 off only 35 deliveries. His swashbuckling style is both elegant and brutal at the same time, and it was a shock when he casually swatted Taylor to deep gulley.

From 154 for 3, though, Essex crumbled to 290 all out. This was partly due to some poor batting and partly due to an inspired spell of bowling by the off-spinner Jeremy Snape.

His five Championship wickets before this game this season had cost over 93 runs each, but after tea he took all four wickets to fall to a bowler. The first three came in seven balls.

Neil Williams swung lustily before being taken at silly point by a juggling Bailey and, luckily for Northamptonshire, Bailey proved himself a captain marvel after Akram and David Roberts had spilled easy chances.