Cricket: Bailey finds his touch in great style

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Northamptonshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .335-2


ROB BAILEY needed assistance to find the visitors' dressing-room yesterday morning, but his sense of direction was unerring thereafter. Having hitherto failed to reach fifty in the Championship this season, he made amends with such zest that one could easily imagine Mr Barnum getting a joint credit.

Were he the complaining type, the Northampton beneficiary might feel even more aggrieved than most at his treatment by the selectors. Considered good enough, or rather brave enough, to win four Test caps against the West Indies, Bailey, like Sussex's David Smith, has suffered the perverse fate of being deemed not up to scratch against inferior opposition.

Bailey's response was to resist the lure of the rand when he was invited to tour South Africa but there have doubtless been times, judging by the experiences of Mike Gatting, when to go must have seemed the wiser option.

Still, there is a Caribbean tour on the horizon so this effort may not necessarily be in vain. Coming in in the sixth over after Adrian Jones had induced an edge from Alan Fordham, Bailey was not so much spared first ball as deafened as Jones ended his follow-through a few feet from the crease and unleashed an appeal for caught behind whose intensity and conviction was all the more astonishing for its total lack of accompaniment.

From then on, barring a pause for breath as the fourth double-hundred of his career - and second against Sussex - beckoned, Bailey was in complete command. Despite a minimalist backlift, he struck 28 fours during his run-a-ball reign, testimony to timing as well as an outfield greased by a torrential downpour that cost 24 overs either side of lunch. There were also two sixes, one a remarkable inside-out blow over extra cover that shattered the repose of the slumberers in the committee room, the other a massive straight drive up the slope off a now subdued Jones.

Speed and Nigel Felton have generally been mutually exclusive throughout the opener's 11 years on the circuit and Bailey duly outscored him by virtually three to one during their 66- over 281-run liaison, the second highest of the season to date. Unperturbed when the vice-captain finally carved Tony Pigott to point the ball after he had reached 200, the sleeping partner jogged steadily towards his own landmark, acquiring what was only his second first-class hundred since 1990. With the close in sight, it was a becalmed Allan Lamb who looked on approvingly from the other end, presumably dreaming up further ways to make Sussex pay for his own continued absence from the top table.