Essex 273 and 158
Northants win by innings and 13 runs
IF SPIN is the art of bluff, Nick Cook could probably break the bank at Las Vegas. Achieving no more than modest deviation on a beneficent pitch, Cook produced a spell of 6 for 2 in 41 balls either side of tea, giving him a career-best 7 for 34 and Northamptonshire renewed optimism in their quest for the Championship pennant that has eluded them throughout their 87 first-class summers.
Essex's greenhorn batting order made one fatal error: they played for turn. Five of Cook's victims were of the bat-pad recipe, Paul Prichard was caught behind dabbing at one that bounced and only Nadeem Shahid was undone by anything spiteful, edging to first slip where Allan Lamb completed the job standing on his head. Cook had done much the same.
This constituted something of a turnaround in more senses than one. After Northamptonshire's previous game against Warwickshire, Lamb observed that the opposition might have been dismissed for 150 had he possessed 'a quality spinner'. Umbrage can rarely have been taken to such productive effect.
Not that Cook was alone in cooking the leaders' goose. With four wickets available to muster the 29 required to avert the follow-on when play resumed, Essex must have fancied their chances of killing the contest. Instead, Curtly Ambrose roused himself, uprooting Nick Knight's off stump to embark on a spell of 3 for 1 in 14 deliveries and so keep the target of 22 runs distant.
John Stephenson hooked Paul Taylor for six before the spinners were summoned, then mislaid his marbles, charging Rob Bailey to be stumped by a street, Ambrose making the critical incision by forcing Nasser Hussain to play on.
It says much for Essex's dilapidated state that Peter Such, career average 3.67 at the start of the season, found himself at No 9. Unused to such onerous responsibility, it was not until he arrived in the middle that he realised he had omitted to bring his bat with him.
Courtney Walsh ruined Nottinghamshire's hopes of closing the gap on Essex as Gloucestershire clinched a 10-run victory at Worksop. Walsh claimed 5 for 33 as Nottinghamshire, in pursuit of 146 to win, were all out for 135.