Mohammad Azharullah captured three of the six wickets to fall as Essex ended a truncated opening day of the LV=County Championship Division Two match between Essex and Northamptonshire at Chelmsford on 177 for 6 from 52.2 overs.
The 31 year-old fast-medium bowler had figures of 3 for 51 having also beaten the bat on a number of occasions on a difficult wicket for batting although , Mark Pettini and James Foster improved the home side’s fortunes with an unbroken stand worth 58 runs in 17 overs before bad light brought proceedings to a close.
Play did not get underway until 1.45 p.m. after rain had left the outfield wet but the visitors attack soon made up for lost time reducing their opponents to 119 for 6 at one stage as they exploited the dampness in the pitch.
England Under-19 batting star Dan Lawrence was the first victim of the day when, having scored 8, he pushed forward to a ball from Rory Kleinveldt that nipped away to be caught at 3rd slip.
The home side had advanced their total to 48 when they lost three wickets in 23 balls whilst adding five runs as Northamptonshire took a firm grip on proceedings.
Opener Nick Browne, needing 85 runs to become the first Essex batsman to reach 1,000 first-class runs in a season since Ravi Bopara in 2008, was caught for 24 when pushing at a ball of width from Azharullah.
Tom Westley had scored 20 out of 52 when he edged a fine delivery from Ollie Stone that moved away late and landed in the gloves of wicket-keeper David Murphy and one run later, Jesse Ryder failed to offer a stroke to a ball from Azharulllah and was bowled.
Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate doubled the score with a 62 runs partnership for the fifth wicket spanning 15 overs with ten Doeschate playing positively form the start of his innings.
He struck successive boundaries off the first two deliveries sent down by Maurice Chambers when the former Essex pace bowler was introduced into the firing line sending the ball to the deep extra-cover boundary and then to deep mid-wicket.
The stand was ended with the total on 115 when Bopara, who had played circumspectly to reach 19, offered a sharp catch to Ben Duckett at short mid-wicket to give Kleinveldt a second wicket.
Four runs later, ten Doeschate’s aggressive and entertaining innings spanning 56 balls and containing a total of seven boundaries was brought to an end when he was struck on the pads attempting to work Azharullah into the leg side.
However Pettini and Foster averted further problems. Both experienced players adopted a responsible approach to master the visitors attack whilst also executing well-timed drives on either side of the wicket .
Both worked the ball nicely off their feet to keep the scoreboard before Foster increased the tempo with three boundaries in one over from the wayward Chambers to raise the 50 partnership.
Pettini was 29 not out and Foster 25 when play was called off and they will resume tomorrow with the responsibility of collecting batting points and positing a meaningful total.
Northamptonshire bowler Rory Kleinveldt said: “We started very nicely and hopefully we can finish the job off tomorrow morning and then go and put on a big score.”
With neither side able to attain promotion, there was only pride at stake for both teams. Kleinveldt continued: “Obviously there is not a lot to play for at the moment but it’s still first-class cricket and you have to stay professional and do your best.”
Essex batsman Mark Pettini said: “We would have put them in if we had won the toss and batting was difficult. The pitch had been under covers for a couple of days and the ball was nipping around a bit.
“If we can put together a couple of good partnerships, we are in with a chance of getting a good first innings score and that’s the target tomorrow.”