Elementary hundred for Gooch

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reports from Chelmsford

Northants 214 and 133-0 Essex 308

Sherlock Holmes was needed at the County Ground, not to bat or bowl, but to solve the mystery of the "Ball Which Swung". The original ball was lost in the 37th over and when it was found 14 overs later it had acquired a remarkable ability to swing - something which it had shown no signs of doing earlier - and completely disrupted Essex.

Having gone into lunch at 200 for 1 after Graham Gooch had reached his 123rd century with thunderous certainty, they found Paul Taylor an entirely different proposition. He took 5 for 16 in 48 balls, including Gooch and Nasser Hussain to balls that swung back into the right hander.

John Emburey had come on to bowl the 37th over of the innings and in his first over, Hussain, who in his present mood would make light of any challenge, danced down the pitch and drove him far into the gardens behind the sightscreen. The ball could not be found and the umpires chose another.

Gooch, who was apparently unhappy with the replacement ball which was soft, sent off some of the groundstaff to search for the old one. When they found it it was returned to the game and suddenly began to swing like a boomerang.

Taylor bowled with excellent control, taking full advantage of this unexpected bonus and giving Northamptonshire a chance to get back into the match, which their opening batsmen built on in the evening.,

Only Stuart Law was able to cope and his 40 stretched Essex's lead to 94, which still may turn out to be enough.

Earlier, Gooch, looking more than ever like the Pirate King from the Pirates Of Penzance, went on thumping his left leg down the pitch and driving venomously in the arc between wide mid-on and extra-cover. He is batting as well as ever and there is no finer sight on the county circuit.

Another unusual touch to a bizarre day came towards the end of the Essex innings when a fawn suddenly appeared on the ground in front of the scoreboard. Looking rather startled, it proceeded to do half a lap of honour before leaping the boundary and almost landing in a woman's lap before disappearing. Holmes always wore a deer-stalker, so he might have solved that one, too.