Crook, Copeland give Northants control
Essex 187 for 5 (ten Doeschate 47*) trail Northamptonshire 531 (Hall 63, Crook 63) by 344 runs
Monty Panesar will not readily forget his debut for Essex. It was another hot day with the pitch still sluggish and taking spin only on the rare occasions when he gave the ball some air, the batsmen still rapacious for runs. He bowled the day's first over, spearing yorker length and flat deliveries in at the nimble feet of Andrew Hall and Steven Crook with limited success. He was required to do so much bowling that he seemed to be on at both ends at once. His figures, when Northamptonshire were finally dismissed for 531, read 54-18-133-2.
Having taken his first wicket on the opening day, Panesar had Crook held at slip, attempting to cut. Would he benefit from bowling a little slower, here as elsewhere? Robin Hobbs, fine legspinner from a happy era of Essex cricket, does not believe he can. "He finds it difficult to do so. But then Derek Underwood could never flight the ball." The more the batsmen milked him for runs, the more Panesar bowled at a speed akin to Underwood's medium-pace cutters. Hobbs was not meaning to be disparaging: he knows that throwing the ball up above the batsman's eyeline does not work for everybody.
As to whether Panesar will still be an Essex cricketer next year, Nigel Hilliard, the Essex chairman, said that it would depend on how he fits into the dressing room. "His ability is unquestioned and the members will always be glad to see an England Test cricketer playing in front of them," Hilliard said. "We can afford him, having taken on his pay structure from Sussex. At the end of the season Monty will be a free agent." What also has to be resolved is the future for Tom Craddock, who will not play for the remainder of the season owing to personal reasons.
Four of Northamptonshire's remaining first innings wickets fell to spin - but three of them were taken by Greg Smith's off breaks. Hall, like Crook, finished with 63, ten fours as opposed to eight. He was bowled as he made to force the ball away. The theory is that the square in mid-August always favours the Essex spinners, but Hilliard, who played club cricket here at Castle Park, recalled Peter Such toiling away, over after over with scant reward. So it was now for Panesar, who must hope that there will be more turn for him if and when he bowls again.
Robert Keogh had been first to go, his middle stump uprooted by Graham Napier, and Smith concluded the innings by bowling Trent Copeland and having Azharullah taken at short leg. Essex then required 382 to avoid following-on. If the pitch was to take spin, best they made a solid start. Instead, Jaik Mickleburgh edged Copeland to the wicketkeeper; Gautam Gambhir, having driven Hall nicely through the cover ring, was bowled by Crook, back on his stumps; Ravi Bopara was leg before to Crook.
Northamptonshire barely concerned themselves with spin, even if James Middlebrook, another in this match to be playing against a former county, was in their side. The medium pacers were rotated to good effect. But in the last hour James Foster, the very person to come in when the follow-on is looming, and Ryan ten Doeschate, who batted with similar resolve, ensured Northamptonshire still have much to do. Their unbroken partnership amounts to 84 and there was a freedom about their strokeplay in the closing overs which reflected poorly on the batsmen who had gone before. Essex are 344 runs in arrears.