Dakin hits his stride

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Northamptonshire 564

Leicestershire 367 and 18-0

THERE was a time in the 1970s when Northamptonshire, from Geoff Cook all the way down to Sarfraz Nawaz, were sleek with Test-class talent and yet had just a single Gillette Cup trophy, in 1976, to show for it. Year after year, they proved far less than the sum of their parts.

Now, it would seem, there is far more harmony in the dressing room than there is in the architecture at the County Ground. Even the latter is improving, with Northampton Town banished to the ring road, the dismantling of the old football stands and their replacement with a rank of blue and white hospitality tents. So in spite of a return to bleak weather yesterday, a gratifying number of spectators chose to support their winning team, a remarkable 36 points ahead of the Championship field after seven matches.

Any ideas Northamptonshire might have had of a Monday morning lie-in, however, were frustrated first by the dismal weather and then by some resolute Leicestershire batting. Six days of sunshine are quite enough for any English summer, and drizzle delayed play yesterday for 45 minutes. At that point the visitors, attempting to climb a Northamptonshire mountain of 564 runs, were 185 for four with Ben Smith not out on 80. The home side's dominance had been built around a career best of 175 by David Capel, enjoying his best form and fitness for many years.

Smith made his first XI debut in 1990, scored what was until now his only century two years later and is yet to be capped. He is a compact right-hander in whom Leicestershire have shown consistent faith, and he rewarded them by completing a composed 100 before falling to the gentle spin of Northamptonshire's acting captain Rob Bailey.

Skipper Allan Lamb had retired hurt on Thursday, cracked on the thumb by Alamgir Sheriyar, and is yet to return. It took Anil Kumble to end the impertinence of nightwatchman Alan Mullally, who supported Smith with a stubborn morning knock of 20. As he had done on Friday, the brisk Indian leg-spinner took a wicket in the first over of his opening spell, but Leicestershire were still in no mood to roll over in spite of the daunting score needed to avoid batting again.

Smith's defiance was more than matched in the afternoon by the tall left hander Jonathan Dakin, Hitchin-born and Johannesburg- raised. After a modest debut in 1993 he spent last season in the second XI, and only received another crack at the big time due to the fact that the preferred all- rounder, Vincent Wells, is injured. In Leicestershire's draw against Nottinghamshire last week he grasped this opportunity, and followed a debut century with a second-innings 66, interspersed with a handy Sunday knock.

Dakin came to the crease as if unaware of the problem Leicestershire were facing, six down and still 250 behind the follow-on figure. The computers may rank Kumble as one of the finest bowlers in the world but Dakin seems to be computer-illiterate. In reaching a run-a-ball 50 he hit the Indian for two sixes and a four in one over, and 48 of his runs had come from boundaries.

Though the new ball tamed Leicestershire somewhat in mid-afternoon, the Northamptonshire scheme was still not running quite to the script they would have sketched out over breakfast. Gordon Parsons, a tail-ender who takes pride in his belligerent batting, was kept unusually quiet, however, and when the remaining Leicestershire batsmen gave little sign of continuing the resistance Dakin was last out, skying a desperation shot to mid-off, all but maintaining his run-a-ball momentum.

Bad light interrupted the follow on shortly after tea. It was not particularly gloomy, but after the murky April moment at Chelmsford when Leicester's Phil Whitticase had his face re-arranged, umpires are being cautious. The spectators accepted that the day's entertainment was over.