WITH 76 overs of spin and not so much as a sniff of a wicket for the seamers, this was a day of unexpected pleasures. More predictably, Allan Lamb maintained his unsubtle method of selector- nudging, although the signs are that Northamptonshire will benefit rather more than their captain's Test career.
Encouraged by the absence of Neil Foster, whose season has ended prematurely courtesy of the surgeon's knife - which is hardly something that will displease Essex's pursuers - Northamptonshire embarked briskly upon winning the toss and rarely faltered.
With 15 O-levels, five A-levels and two BScs between them, Alan Fordham and Nigel Felton are almost certainly the most learned opening pair on the circuit as well as inseparable friends, and they employed suitably intelligent tactics in posting their fourth century start of the summer.
Fordham sprinted ahead with some marvellously supple drives while Felton jogged along studiously, 63 flowing from the first 14 overs. However, the advent of John Childs shortly after midday, followed swiftly by that of Peter Such, compelled caution on a palpable turner, prompting a profitable tip-and-run approach that ended when Fordham was bowled mid-heave by Such.
Felton fell as he had prospered, bowled by Childs while essaying another glide to third man, and when Rob Bailey was leg-before pushing forward to Such at 172, retrenchment seemed in order. Instead, Lamb's broadsword and David Capel's rapier regained the initiative by adding 121 in 30 overs, the spirit of enterprise reflecting the fact that victory is imperative if the visitors are to preserve any lingering hopes of landing that elusive first Championship.
To watch Lamb in this form is to wallow in batting at its most ruthless and least elegant. Not that fineries are the issue when there is spleen to be vented. Last season his response to being dropped for the Oval was to amass 670 runs in 10 knocks; since being ditched after Pakistan's win at Lord's, he has plundered 676 at an average of 84.5, including three hundreds.
Another was there for the taking here, but Nadeem Shahid's first exploratory over of leg-spin proved his undoing, a rank long- hop pulled down deep mid-wicket's throat much to Essex's manifest relief - 14 fours and a six the highlights of a pugnacious 131-ball 83.
Upon inheriting the captaincy in 1989, Lamb gave himself four years to replenish the Northampton trophy cabinet. Even if he fulfills that objective, it will be interesting to observe his appetite should it transpire that he has relinquished his seat at the international table.Reuse content