Robinson displays his class

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reports from Northampton

Nottinghamshire 353-1 v Northamptonshire

After knowing Tim Robinson as a mere stripling when he had trials for their second team, Northamptonshire have suffered heavily from his bat in the intervening years. Yesterday, he could have exchanged willow for walking stick - such was the certainty of his strokeplay.

Every thud of the ball on the boundary boards was a hammer blow to Northamptonshire's Championship ambitions as Robinson made 204 not out, striking 29 fours and a six from 320 deliveries.

Without a game last week, Northamptonshire slipped to third place. On this latest evidence, with a second back-to-back Championship game against Middlesex and the NatWest final against Warwickshire the following day, the frown lines could be showing.

Not least for Rob Bailey, who dropped Robinson, on three, at second slip off Kevin Curran. It was a catch Bailey would have usually taken instinctively. Robinson's seventh first-class hundred this summer helped to carry him beyond 1500 runs in his final season as captain.

Two other slender chances from Robinson fell short of Jeremy Snape, when he had made 31, and then Richard Montgomerie, on 140. These were the extent of the master batsman's miscalculations. Substitute Mal Loye almost ran him out with a direct hit soon after completing his county's third individual double hundred in the fixture, following William Whysall, in 1930, and Joe Hardstaff 21 years later.

Robinson's craft upstaged Northamptonshire's graft, though Graeme Archer, with 93 not out from 211 balls with a pulled six off Anil Kumble and 14 fours, played a vital role. They shared an unbroken partnership of 285 in 77 overs. Arthur Shrewsbury and William Gunn, the holders of the county's all-time second-wicket record of 398 against Sussex in 1890, still would not have turned in their graves last night.

Allan Lamb would not have endured a restless sleep, either. The Northamptonshire captain is too battle-hardened to worry about a bad day, though this was worse than that, with only another 20 overs to gather some bowling points on a flat and batsman-friendly pitch.

Even Kumble, the Indian leg-spinner, found no response after slanting his sixth ball across Paul Pollard, who edged to slip. Northamptonshire are known to have team meetings after difficult days. Their latest could have gone on until the witching hour, long after Robinson had relished dinner, along with his 58th first-class century.

It seems remarkable that six years have elapsed since Robinson played probably the last of his 29 Tests. As a county batsman, and approaching 25,000 first-class runs with an average over 40, he has few peers.