Northamptonshire 239-6 Essex 240-2 Essex win by eight wickets
A RUN a ball seemed a reasonably testing asking rate for Northamptonshire to set on a docile Valentine's Park wicket yesterday until Stuart Law came in to bat for Essex.
The Queensland skipper has been on automatic pilot so far this season - numerous 40s, but only one converted to a half-century. More might be expected of such a brutally clean-hitting batsman, and yesterday he delivered, even though he surrendered his wicket on the cover boundary when a three-figure score was his for the taking.
Darren Robinson was content to support him - Law reached his 50 in 10 overs, and when Essex passed 100 he was on 78. Franklyn Rose and Devon Malcolm, world-class pacemen, were treated with the same disdain as the county toilers, and after Law's departure, Robinson maintained the momentum.
Although the season seems barely underway, the AXA League is more than one-third complete. It is safe to say, therefore, that Northamptonshire now have only pride to play for in the competition, while yesterday's win took Essex to a shared top slot.
It is 13 seasons since they last won the Sunday title, and all three of their trophies were crammed into the first half of the 1980s with names like Fletcher and Gooch at the fore. On yesterday's form they are challenging once more.
By comparison with the opening stand of 131 in 18 overs that set Essex on the victory route, the Northamptonshire innings was a stop-start affair. Everyone cruised into double figures but no one dominated until the final stage when some hugely entertaining bluster by Tim Walton and Rob Bailey cracked out 60 runs in five overs.
In the field, direct-hit run-outs by Danny Law and Paul Grayson had helped to keep the visitors in check until then, while Peter Such's 3 for 33 was a mean display of controlled spin.
On a beautiful evening, as the beer loosened the tonsils of Essex Man, Nasser Hussain and Ronnie Irani saw the hosts home in blistering style. Irani had hit a skier to deep cover when on four, but alas for Northamptonshire it was Malcolm who was underneath it.