Hooper's declaration of intent

Lancashire 504-9 dec Northamptonshire 142-2
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The Independent Online

As good as the Northampton pitch is for batting, and it is very good, it does not subtract from the pleasure of watching batsmen properly construct an innings. Not necessarily play shots - anyone can do that - but play a role, watchful and cautious early and then increasingly fluent and even dominant later.

Carl Hooper has done it many times before; his century yesterday was his 68th first-class hundred and he combined thrilling stroke-play with intelligent manipulation of the ball into gaps for singles and quickly run twos. He may be by nature a 37-year-old dasher from the Caribbean with the ability to launch a shot a ball but yesterday he assumed responsibility for ensuring Lancashire's first day dominance was not wasted by adding to the earlier centuries of Stuart Law and Iain Sutcliffe.

Add the injured Malachy Loye and runs should not be a problem, as Lancashire desperately try to win their first outright Championship since 1934.

Hooper needed support, and got it initially from his overnight partner, Glen Chapple, whose half-century suggested he is much more than a nightwatchman, and later from the combative Warren Hegg. Like most wicketkeepers, Hegg is busy at the crease and it is fair reflection that of the 90 he put on with Hooper in 16 overs, he scored exactly half. Their efforts ensured they posted an imposing total in excess of 500 and challenged the newly promoted Northamptonshire to compete, which they did, and did well through Tim Roberts and Usman Afzaal.

Without Mike Hussey, back in Australia resting, and Phil Jacques, also back in Australia but more likely counting his passports, the Northampton batting line-up looks weak. The two absentees scored over 3,000 runs between them in the Championship last season and they will need replacing. With no other batsman last year reaching the benchmark 1,000 it will demand a team effort.

So Roberts reaching his highest first-class score of 85 was timely and encouraging, as is the remedial work by Afzaal. Always an in-to-out hitter, he no longer slices the ball as frequently through the cover point and backward point region because his top hand is more dominant and allows him to present a much fuller face of the bat.Two wonderful extra-cover drives exemplified this and with Roberts today, Afzaal has to mimic Hooper and take responsibility for batting Northamptonshire to safety.

If they can, then they will have proved to themselves they can stay up. Their bowlers were not disgraced -if Ben Phillips, Steffan Jones and the impressive Johann Louw had not adhered so strictly to the disciplines of line and length, the score would have been much greater.

And with both off-spinners, Graeme Swann and Jason Brown getting some turn, they will hope to bowl a few sides out later in the summer. But first they must not lose this match and that means runs, lots more of them, because as Hooper demonstrated, a good start is nothing without consolidation.