Cricket: Gooch provides spark

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Northants 214; Essex 63-0

Northamptonshire's innings was a curious mixture. On a pitch which had an uneven bounce, most of their runs came from unexpected sources while the experienced batsmen contributed surprisingly few.

Northamptonshire owed their only batting point to a last-wicket stand of 51 from Neil Mallender and Paul Taylor. There was notable absentees on both sides. Mark Ilott is nursing a broken right hand while Northamptonshire were without Curtly Ambrose, who has hurt his back, and Kevin Curran, whose wife has just given birth to a son.

Maybe after the excitement and drama of their Benson and Hedges semi- final, the first day of a four-day match before not much of a crowd was an anti-climax for Northants. In any event, the only sparkle all day came in the last 40 overs of the day from Graham Gooch, who cut, pulled and drove as only he can.

At the start Richard Montgomerie soon drove at Steve Andrew and was comfortably caught at second slip by Gooch. The second wicket fell at 43 when Rob Bailey tried to glance Ashley Cowan and was caught behind. David Roberts, who is 19 and playing his first Championship match, was joined by Mal Loye. They added 62, the biggest stand of the innings. In a compact way Roberts made a good impression. He defended surely, drove pleasantly and hit seven fours in his 41. He show- ed that there is good material for John Emburey to work with.

Loye played some good shots too, but he should cut out the pull or do some hard work on it. He always seemed to hit the ball in the air. He was caught behind flashing outside the off-stump at Andrew, and the mid- dle and lower order then capitulated against steady bowling.

The exception was Andy Roberts (no relation), who play- ed some robust strokes, taking 15 in an over off Ronnie Irani. When he was caught off bat and pad at silly point, Northants were 163 for 9. Taylor, who must be the best No 11 in the country, and Mallender held up Essex for 22 overs, putting the pitch into a truer perspective.