Kaneria menaces but Hall keeps Northants afloat
Essex 3 for 0 (Cook 0*, Maunders 3*) trail Northamptonshire 299 (Hall 85, Kaneria 5-86) by 296 runs
Andrew Hall repelled the wiles of Essex's legspinner, Danish Kaneria, in a counterattacking innings of 85 from 118 balls, as Northamptonshire overcame a mid-innings slump to post a competitive 299 on a helpful track, and so maintain their ascendancy in the promotion race in a crucial second-versus-third encounter at Chelmsford.
Trailing by 12 points in the Championship with just one more round to come, the onus was on Essex to attack, especially having lost the whole of the first day to rain. Mark Pettini duly won the toss and chose to bowl first, but when Darren Masters was clubbed for 14 runs in his opening over by Stephen Peters, the tactic appeared set to backfire. But Chris Wright prised an opening when Niall O'Brien drove loosely into the covers, and then it was over to Kaneria, who claimed 5 for 86 in 36 mesmeric overs - his sixth five-wicket haul of the summer.
First to succumb was Peters, who was pushed back into his crease and pinned lbw for 37, whereupon Riki Wessels survived an excruciating first-ball appeal to a replica delivery. Though he responded by flogging Graham Napier over midwicket for six, he was rashly stumped for 10 when Kaneria fizzed a big legbreak past his edge for James Foster to whip off the bails with ease.
Rob White and Paul Harrison - a journeyman batsman who had played second-division cricket for five counties before this, his Championship debut - resisted gamely in a 64-run stand for the fourth wicket. But Kaneria extracted White for 30 with a bit of extra bounce that lobbed off the glove to short leg, before Harrison, five balls later, fenced Masters to Alastair Cook in the slips for 32. Nicky Boje was then nailed lbw to give Kaneria his fourth of the innings, and when Johan van der Wath edged Napier to Foster, Northamptonshire had slumped to 180 for 7, and Essex anticipated a major coup on the bonus-point front.
But Hall is ever the man for a crisis, and in partnership with David Lucas, he set about rebuilding the innings. The pair added 71 in 19 overs for the eighth wicket, with Hall bringing up his fifty with three fours in a row, including consecutive edges that flew away through third man. Lucas was eventually extracted by none other than Kaneria, caught behind to give Foster his third dismissal of the innings, but Monty Panesar, whose season is already more memorable for his batting feats at Cardiff, revived the panache that led Graeme Swann to compare him to Yuvraj Singh, as he swiped six fours in an attractive 32 not out.
Panesar was dropped on the midwicket boundary by Wright on 28, but before Northamptonshire could capitalise, Hall fell at the other end, swishing his bat in self-admonishment as Masters drew him into the stroke and Foster completed an impressive one-handed take diving away in front of first slip. Lee Daggett then became Masters' third of the innings when he was bowled for a duck, leaving Essex to face three overs before the close. Cook and John Maunders negotiated them without loss, and will resume on Thursday morning with a hefty task ahead of them if Essex are to have muscled into the promotion zone by the weekend.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo