Cricket: Fordham's patience provides the polish

Essex 286 and 18-1

Northamptonshire 370

JUST before 2.45, when we had seen 155 overs of seam bowling and two of spin - the mandatory appearance by Rob Bailey just before lunch on the first day - Essex decided that crisis point had been reached.

Northamptonshire were 117 behind with three wickets gone and Alan Fordham and Allan Lamb were building up a storm. The advertising board, in front of the scorebox, was in danger of being riddled by cannon-fire. What to do? Send for Charlie.

Six runs later Lamb, having scored 50 off 60 balls, cutting into that board from one end and on-driving into it from the other, stepped out to lift John Childs over the ring and there was mid-on, hands cupped, waiting. Mal Loye restored the advance for another 22 overs before he was stumped off 'Charlie' Childs and six runs later young Russell Warren was trapped; after so much muscle, Charlie's subtleties were Vivaldi after Motorhead.

That is perhaps too harsh a comment on some accurate and thoughtful work by Derek Pringle and John Stephenson on what is still a greenish pitch with some variation in lift at the pavilion end. Pringle had some moral victories over the day's central figure, Fordham, who contributed a polished century, his third of the season, to ensure that the Cobblers would take a lead.

Fordham might have been stumped and, at 123, he offered first slip a sharp chance off Steve Andrew but he rode his luck like the consummate professional he has become, playing the long innings like the sailor adapting to wind and water, patient for the tide to turn. He cut Don Topley over the slips for six, perhaps not entirely intentionally a la Johnny Tyldesley, but it was a stroke born of audacity and therefore to be applauded.

The England committee ought to be called before a justice of the High Court to explain why he has never even had an A tour; what Fordham should do is find a grandfather born in Rhodesia and blaze his name for Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, this was his 17th century for Northamptonshire since his debut in 1986.

A buccaneering knock from Kevin Curran helped take the score past 300 before Pringle came belatedly into his own just before and after the new ball, by which time Childs had been sent back to philosophise in the long grass. Curtly Ambrose then took a relish to the cherry and ended Essex's hopes of restarting with a small deficit.