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Cricket: Sales of the centuries

Northamptonshire 579 Essex 258-3

THERE IS a wonderful irony in David Sales becoming the youngest ever Englishman to score a first-class triple century, because he performed so poorly last season and became so disillusioned with the game that he seriously considered giving it up completely.

How lucky his Northamptonshire team-mates were that he decided to continue, because the undoubtedly talented 21-year-old walked to the crease on Friday with the score at 12 for 3, which soon disintegrated to a perilous 58 for 6. Undaunted, Sales found an ally in his acting captain, David Ripley, and set about repairing the innings.

Helped by the weakness of the Essex bowling attack - Ashley Cowan being the notable exception - he cut, pulled and drove his way into the record books and gave the Northamptonshire faithful the first real achievement to cheer since Malachy Loye's undefeated 322 in May last season. Sales stands behind Loye in the county records but ahead of the former captain Raman Subba Row, the only other triple-centurion.

Sales' record-breaking started back in 1994 when, as a nervous 16-year- old debutant, he became the youngest scorer of a half-century in the Sunday league. On his first-class debut in 1996 he dominated the headlines with an undefeated 210 to become the youngest ever player to score a double century in the county championship and the first Englishman to score one on his first-class debut.

Impressive highlights in what can only be described as a chequered curriculum vitae, because the cause of his distress last season was the dismal total of 346 first-class runs at an average of just over 17.

He needed a little luck yesterday as the ball continued to swing and he was gifted a life on 273 when the wicketkeeper Barry Hyam dropped an absolute dolly, but considering it takes most players a fortnight or more to score 300 runs it would be churlish to begrudge the man some good fortune. What he needs now is further encouragement from the England hierarchy as he has proved that he has an excellent temperament, is the first Englishman to 1,000 runs this season, and can play under pressure - witness his debut as a 16-year-old.

Stuart Law led the Essex reply with his sixth century of the season but a brilliant juggling one-handed catch at slip dismissed him with 182 still needed to avoid the follow-on. The catcher? David Sales of course.