Loye's day of joy

Cricket: Northamptonshire 383-9 dec Somerset 88-0

Mal Loye continued his rehabilitation yesterday with a hard-hit, fluent century in a match that has been badly affected by rain.

Only two years ago the 23-year-old right-hander seemed to be making smooth progress towards Test status. He toured South Africa with England A in 1993-4 and was regarded as one of the best young batsmen in county cricket. But last season he suffered a crisis of confidence. Unable to retain his place in a side pushing for the Championship, he played only seven matches and scored a meagre 134 runs.

Loye looked far from confident in the opening hour when Andrew Caddick, another of cricket's under-achievers, exploited the early moisture to bowl a hostile but luckless spell. Batting became considerably easier against some average seam bowling from Kevin Shine and Shane Lee.

Loye set about them with relish. He pulled anything short with dismissive ease through square leg, brought up his half-century with a cut for four off Lee and celebrated with a six over midwicket in the same over.

Lee came in for more punishment as Loye's timing kept pace with his increasing confidence. Two straight drives flashed past the hapless Australian in successive balls and Andy Hayhurst was cut, clipped and lofted for three fours in one over.

Loye was stranded on 99 at lunch but brought up his century soon afterwards with a straight driven boundary off Andrew Batty. But the off-spinner finally got his man with a flighted delivery which Loye swept at too early and was bowled.

Meanwhile Graham Rose, fresh from 13 wickets in the match against Nottinghamshire and one of the most enthusiastic appealers in the business, applied a measure of control with some probing seam and swing bowling. At one point he had figures of three for 16 off 9.3 overs in a highly effective performance spanning two spells.

But Somerset suffered more indignities as David Capel and Tony Penberthy added a quick-fire century partnership in only 16 overs. Capel was in a particularly ebullient and unconventional mood, smearing the rattled Lee for two sixes over the short square leg boundary.

With the fourth batting bonus point in the bag Robin Bailey declared at tea. Curtly Ambrose's extra pace and bounce troubled both Somerset openers but he failed to break through and with batting looking increasingly comfortable it will take some imaginative captaincy to conjure up a result tomorrow.

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