Stumps day two: Essex 274-2 (Mickleburgh 103, Browne 88; trail Northamptonshire 444 (Duckett 189, Newton 75; Bopara 5-95) by 172 runs
Jaik Mickleburgh’s fourth First Class hundred of the season led a strong Essex response on Day Two at Wantage Road, the visitors closing on 270-2 after Northants collapsed and were dismissed for 444.
Mickleburgh and Nick Browne shared an opening stand of 195, Browne falling for 88, and Mickleburgh completing his hundred before falling for 103 as Essex reduced the deficit to 170 with eight wickets still in hand.
Earlier Ravi Bopara completed his second five wicket haul in three matches as Essex took the remaining five Northants wicket for 66 runs in the morning, with Bopara then finishing the day unbeaten on 30, alongside Tom Westley on 44*.
Ten of the last 12 Championship matches at Wantage Road have been drawn, but Essex will be hoping to kick on from a promising position and achieve a substantial first innings lead, to then put the pressure on the hosts in the second innings after they wasted a great start of their own.
Ben Duckett’s 189 set Northants on course for a huge first innings total, but his dismissal late on the opening day was quickly followed by Adam Rossington and Steven Crook, as Northants resumed 387-5.
Crook became Bopara’s 200th First Class victim, and the former England man secured his five wicket haul when Northants stand-in captain Josh Cobb was LBW for 49 in the opening over of the day. This five wicket haul followed his career best 5-49 against Derbyshire two weeks ago, having taken five only once in his previous 169 First Class outings.
While Bopara took five of the first six wickets, it was then the turn of Essex’s youngsters, Matt Quinn marking his Championship debut with the wickets of David Murphy and Olly Stone before teenager Matt Beard found Ben Sanderson’s edge.
Both sides claimed maximum bonus points but Northants will have hoped for much more having been 344-2 prior to Duckett’s dismissal and when Monty Panesar was bowled by Ashar Zaidi, the hosts had lost their last eight wickets for exactly 100 run to be bowled out prior to lunch.
The morning cloud cover had brought some assistance, but as the sun burned through in the afternoon, the next wicket wouldn’t fall until after as Mickleburgh and Browne dominated the afternoon on another Wantage Road pitch offering little in assistance.
Browne was giving a couple of lives however, twice dropped by Duckett at first slip, the first time with only five to his name and again on 27, Northants’ inexperienced slip cordon costing the hosts dear as the Essex openers went on to share 195.
Mickleburgh has started the season with two centuries against Cambridge MCCU, only to be dropped for Alistair Cook in the opening weeks of the campaign.
However he made three consecutive First Class hundreds when he returned against the touring Sri Lankans and made it 500 runs in only five matches with an innings that gave few chances of note, save a couple of inside edges.
The landmark came up with a straight drive off Sanderson, his 15th boundary of the day as the Essex duo were just 32 short of the county record for the opening stand against Northants before Gleeson removed both in consecutive overs.
Both will be disappointed with the manner of their dismissals, Mickleburgh, having been tied down following his century, chased a short wide one and edged a cut behind, before Browne, who had recorded his seventh 50 plus score of the campaign, chipped one straight to Olly Stone at cover, 12 short of three figures.
The unlucky Stone saw a second catch go down off his bowling, as Bopara miscued a pull to Sanderson at square leg, with Northants convinced they had him caught behind off the very next ball.
It wasn’t given however and those two deliveries aside, Bopara and Westley made serene progress as they batting through the rest of the day, adding a further 74 by the close as Essex put themselves in a strong position at the mid-way point of the game.