Cricket: Sales' exhibition bridges the division

Northamptonshire 411-6 v Leicestershire
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The Independent Online
SURPRISING AS it may seem in these times of grasping sportsmen, the pride of playing in the First Division, rather than the profit of finishing runners-up to Surrey, appeared to be the greater motivation at Wantage Road yesterday as Northamptonshire, boosted by fine centuries from David Sales and David Ripley, finished the opening day on 411 for 6.

It was a defiant effort by Sales and Ripley, the acting captain, who came together with Mike Kasprowicz on a hat-trick and their side less that handily placed on 138 for 5. Together they added 255 for the sixth wicket in 57 overs, a stand that knocked the wind from second-placed Leicestershire and left them well placed to escape the ignominy of beginning the new millennium in the Second Division.

Sales oozed fluency and power to show the kind of form that has brought the 21-year old recognition with the selectors and a place on this winter's England A tour to Bangladesh and New Zealand. This was his third century of a season and it saw him pass 1,000 Championship runs for the first time in his career.

One of the recurring criticisms of Sales is that he plays shots not innings. Here he did both, albeit against a modest attack spearheaded by the persevering but exhausted Kasprowicz. He also appears to lack consistency and, in the five weeks since his unbeaten triple century here against Essex, he has scored only 78 runs in eight innings, including a pair in the previous match.

There is a lot of Mike Gatting about Sales and not just the substantial bulk that may, unfairly, count against him in these image-conscious times. He has fast bat speed and his shot selection, against spin in particular, was excellent. He twice struck the off-spinner Carl Crowe for six with the minimum of fuss.

Less effusive in his strokeplay than his younger partner, Ripley, who features in the county record books for fifth, seventh and eighth-wicket stands, was nevertheless his usual efficient self. Favouring the off-side, where the bulk of his 105 runs came, it took the second new ball and a tired leg-side swish to remove him.

Before this match, Leicestershire had a good chance of taking the pounds 45,000 prize-money for second place. They may still do it, though shorn of Alan Mullally (unhappy about next year's contract) and James Ormond (rarely fully fit) their bowling will struggle to make the inroads needed to hold off Yorkshire's challenge for second place.

Their lack of depth showed here and after the debutant Scott Boswell, facing his old club, removed Rob Bailey and Russell Warren, they failed to make the breach count, especially after Kasprowicz dismissed Tony Penberthy and Graeme Swann in successive balls.

The Australian, who finished the day with 2 for 69, can take some pleasure in the wickets, which combined the fast bowler's one-two: the perfect yorker following the perfect bouncer. With Allan Donald another master of the ploy, it is something Swann will have to watch for this winter in South Africa.