Jesse Ryder hit 87 but Essex lost their last six wickets for 39 runs as Northamptonshire fought back to enjoy the better of the opening day of the County Championship Division Two match at Wantage Road.
After Nick Browne’s 58 at the top of the order, Essex were well placed on 237/4 with Ryder in full flow, but his dismissal shortly after tea sparked a dramatic collapse, Rob Keogh taking a career best 3-35 while Rory Kleinveldt also picked up three wickets as the visitors were bowled out for 276.
Stephen Peters and Rob Newton safely negotiated the remaining 12 overs of the day as Northants closed on 43-0.
James Foster won the toss and opted to bat on a sunny day in Northampton and Browne got the visitors off to a flying start, reaching 32 at a run a ball, but an opening stand of 48 was broken when Jaik Mickleburgh left a straight one from Steven Crook and was lbw for 8.
Browne, who completed his second half-century of the season, and Tom Westley appeared to be guiding Essex to lunch in relative comfort until Crook excellently ran out the latter for 14, a full length dive at mid-off before throwing down the stumps with Westley stranded.
Kleinveldt found Browne’s outside edge in the third over after lunch, and despite Ryder quickly finding his stride, with his first six scoring shots all boundaries, Northants kept chipping away as Ravi Bopara (17) was sharply caught by Alex Wakely low at second slip off Mohammad Azharullah.
After his initial flurry of boundaries Ryder, together with Ryan ten Doeschate, reined in their natural aggressive tendencies to share a partnership of 90 in 29 overs, a stand that appeared to be putting Essex in a strong position, as Essex went to tea 212-4, with Ryder reaching 50 in 81 balls.
Having looked in little danger throughout his 87, which included 11 fours and a six, Crook found a leading edge, smartly taken by Stephen Peters at cover, and Essex would go on to lose their final six wickets in 64 balls.
Three overs later ten Doeschate was caught behind driving Keogh for 32, and Keogh, who had never previously taken more than a single wicket in a Championship innings with his part time off-spin, got one to turn past Graham Napier’s (five) attempted drive.
James Foster passed 12,000 career first-class runs but would be left stranded on 21 as Adeel Malik was bowled attempted to slog sweep Keogh, and Rory Kleinveldt returned to remove David Masters and Reece Topley inside four balls
Newton moved up to open the batting in place of Richard Levi, and together with Peters ensured Northants reached the close without loss, Newton hitting four fours in his 21, while Peters will resume on 15.
After his career best figures Rob Keogh said he was keen to keep making progress as a spin and to earn the tag of a genuine all-rounder.
“Jesse Ryder played really well. He came out positive and played his shots but we got him out and then attacked. The pitch is quite dry for the first day, and probably only going to get worse as the game progresses, so hopefully the boys can stick in there and we can try and bat once on this wicket.
“I’ve been working hard on my spin over the last couple of years and to lead the [spin] attack is always nice and to get a few wickets, particularly on day one, is also very pleasing.
“I’ve got more of an opportunity to bowl now, which is nice, and hopefully the more bowling I get and the more wickets I take, I can keep that tag as spinner.”
After his 87 Jesse Ryder admitted Essex were disappointed to be bowled out for 276.
“We’ve been talking about trying to score some runs, bat a long time, and I guess we’ve come up on a good pitch after a terrible one we played on, so to get bowled out for 270 is quite disappointing really.
“They’ve got off to a flyer so we’re going to have to come back and put in some hard yards to get back in this match. It’s pretty flat so we’re going to have to turn up and bowl the best we can.”