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Tim Wigmore at Wantage Road
April 18, 2013
Essex 94 for 2 and 183 trail Northamptonshire399 (Crook 88*, Napier 6-93) by 122 runs
The exasperation induced by the wagging tail is something Northamptonshire's opponents might become familiar with this season. Their last two wickets here added 228 at over six runs an over, transforming a position of parity into one of utter dominance.
Trent Copeland must have a case for being one of the best No. 11s in county cricket history. After averaging 31 for New South Wales in Sheffield Shield cricket last season, including scoring a century against Tasmania, Copeland arrived at Northants to be told he would be batting at eleven. "It certainly wasn't an easy conversation," he said.
Copeland made 70, using his reach effectively, especially in his powerful offside driving. He upheld a little of the batting heritage of St George's, his cricket club in Sydney and where Sir Donald Bradman used to play.
Not that the man above him will be happy to slide down the order anytime soon. Steven Crook made an unbeaten 88 full of crunching strokes, perhaps only denied a hundred by Copeland's misjudged hook which left Northants one run shy of a fifth batting point. Still, it was something they would not have imagined possible when Graham Napier's bustling opening spell accounted for three wickets, including Rob Newton to an aberrant swipe from the day's opening delivery.
David Willey also scored a high-class 76, equalling his career best. An exquisitely timed back-foot push for four through the covers, and a nonchalant pull for six, both marked Willey out as a batsman of considerable talent. When you add in his lively left-arm pace, he could well emulate his father Peter in playing for England. But there the similarities end: Peter was a dour right-handed batsman and offspinner.
In the circumstances wicketkeeper David Murphy, who made only made 2 before being trapped lbw by Napier, might well fear slipping below No. 9 which could already be considered a perilous position for a 21st century wicket-keeper.
For all the assurance with which the Northants lower order batted, they were aided by some Essex bowling of the ragtag variety. Tymal Mills continued his infuriating tendency to bowl short on legstump, and a spell of three overs to Crook and Willey was ravaged for 31. The attack - at least in David Masters' absence - was far too dependent upon Napier, although it was puzzling that Ravi Bopara only bowled three overs in the innings and Greg Smith (who batted in the allrounder's position of No. 7) none at all. Bowling Mills in tandem with Maurice Chambers appears to be a luxury James Foster cannot afford.
Sajid Mahmood could only bring more control to the attack, which is not a line often written. Mahmood has so far been consigned to the 2nd XI but, if he is not given a place in Essex's next game, he may wonder why he bothered moving counties.
Beginning their second innings an ominous 216 runs behind, Essex's openers seemed well-aware of the top-order's debt after their first innings shoddiness. They are an interesting pair of contrasts: Tom Westley, a potential future England player already with over 400 first-class runs this season, caresses the ball in a pleasing manner; Rob Quiney, a - probably - former Australian Test player, rather swats it.
They had added 77 in excellent batting conditions in between a shower (although Westley was badly dropped by Murphy on 14) before Westley's lackadaisical clip off Willey was smartly taken by Stephen Peters at midwicket. Copeland later claimed Ben Foakes to a rash offdrive, leaving Essex requiring attritional qualities worthy of their absent friend Alastair Cook if they are to avoid defeat.
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