Cricket: Ambrose's ambush

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The Independent Online
Essex. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .286

Northamptonshire . . . . . . . . . . .25-1

THE local feeling is that Northamptonshire have to win their remaining three home matches, including this one, to remain credible challengers. They have a game in hand on Middlesex but there is a gap of 58 points, which a win at Lord's later this month would not close.

Durham and Leicestershire have still to visit but how much change can be expected from Kent, Derbyshire and Lancashire? This match against the fading champions is vital.

An ambush had been laid. The pitch looked almost as green as the surround, the toss was duly won and Essex were sent in. One ball in Curtly Ambrose's second over reared so sharply it threatened Northampton Town's floodlights; it accounted for Nick Knight who had every right to look astonished.

Paul Prichard edged Ambrose wide of David Ripley before scoring and was dropped at slip, off Tony Penberthy, when 16 by which time the Championship pennant had risen belatedly over the scoreboard and Essex, as if reminded, struck back. This pitch is on the very edge of the square and John Stephenson, enticed by a short boundary, raced to 50 off 69 balls.

When Penberthy, avidly seeking pace, erred in length, Stephenson drove him ruthlessly. Prichard, when allowed, was equally dismissive and young Penberthy's first six overs cost 58 runs. The partnership became so fruitful that 137 were raised by the 34th over when Prichard aimed a loose drive at a ball that cut away.

The afternoon was a different picture. The bowling tightened and the close fielding, especially the catching of Ripley and Allan Lamb, was high class. Stephenson, sixth out, needed another 128 balls to add 42 but his innings of two sixes and 13 fours was powerful and inspiring for his tailenders. Seam, seam and more seam made it a long day.