Cricket: Shahid the defiant

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Essex 286 and 146

Northamptonshire 370 and 64-2

Northants win by 8 wickets

ONLY a defiant innings by Nadeem Shahid saved Essex from an innings defeat here on a cool morning. Curtly Ambrose and Paul Taylor broke the back of the champions' second innings in a further 21 overs when at 60 for 6, with John Stephenson retired hurt, they were still 24 runs in arrears.

With Kevin Curran proving adept at sharing the wickets, Essex were able to set Northamptonshire no more than 63 to win, a victory they accomplished for the loss of Alan Fordham and Rob Bailey before tea.

The green of Thursday had all but disappeared from the pitch, suggesting that it had become drier and firmer. What Essex could not have expected was that Ambrose and Taylor would find so much extra pace and bounce.

Essex had lost Nick Knight to the last ball of Friday evening. Paul Prichard, having narrowly escaped edging Ambrose's first ball of the morning, fell to the second.

Taylor then came steaming in from the pavilion end as if determined to match the West Indian for speed; without Ambrose's height his deliveries tend to skid and, given the left-hander's natural advantage, cut away nastily.

Salim Malik had barely had time to whisper a prayer when he got such a ball, one that was also sinful enough to keep low, Bailey at gully taking a brilliant tumbling catch.

Stephenson took a brutal crack on his right hand in Ambrose's next over, leaving the field with blood seeping from a finger which required stitches.

Jon Lewis was caught behind and even when Ambrose rested, at 42 for 4, Essex had no respite. Kevin Curran made one lift to have Mike Garnham taken by David Ripley, after which the Essex wicketkeeper needed treatment on a badly bruised thumb.

Shahid, meanwhile, had devised a method of evading Ambrose's chin-chasers by dropping on his haunches and flinging his head back to let the ball whistle by his nose, possibly the way Cossacks will deal with Mongol bodyliners when the first Test is played in Samarkand.

The 23-year-old batsman was less able to avoid Ambrose's bone- crushing yorkers, but he went on bravely to hit eight fours in a fifty made off 70 balls before Ambrose and Taylor returned to blast the tail. Shahid finished unconquered on 69.

Due to their injuries, both Stephenson and Garnham are doubtful for today's Axa Equity League match here.