NORTHAMPTONSHIRE'S seamers shared the spoils as they helped rout Essex’s batting line-up and hold the visitors to 220 for eight on a rain-affected opening day of their LV= Insurance County Championship clash at Wantage Road.
But despite wickets falling in clumps, a captain’s knock of 55 not out from Tom Westley helped keep Essex in the contest in a ninth-wicket stand of 68 in 20 overs with Ben Allison (37).
Earlier Ben Sanderson struck twice in two balls to arrest a lightning Essex start to the day which saw Nick Browne and Sir Alastair Cook plunder 68 runs off the first 13 overs.
But when Cook fell for 31, it precipitated the first mini collapse of the day as four wickets went down in 45 balls, two of them to Sanderson and Essex went into lunch on 107 for four before rain prevented any play in the afternoon session.
When play resumed after tea, Westley and Feroze Khushi looked fluent as they rebuilt in a stand of 47 before Essex collapsed again, losing four wickets for nine runs in 32 balls.
Tom Taylor picked up three wickets amid the carnage before Westley and Allison made sure honours were even at close of play.
In the morning, Northamptonshire’s decision to insert Essex after winning the toss was called into question as opening pair Browne and Cook unfurled a string of boundaries.
Cook found the ropes three times in Jack White’s fifth over, playing some trademark backfoot punches and cuts.
Meanwhile Browne also hit a trio of boundaries off Taylor’s first over, driving sweetly through the covers.
Both batters had their share of luck, though, when Emilio Gay shelled two chances at second slip denying Gareth Berg a pair of wickets.
First Gay put down a straightforward chance offered by Browne before missing a more difficult one to his left when Cook edged wide of the cordon.
Taylor finally accounted for Cook when he got one to nip back and hit the stumps.
The former England captain now needs 44 in the second innings to reach 1,000 runs for the season.
Sanderson’s return to the attack soon reaped dividends when Browne chipped to midwicket and Dan Lawrence was bowled through the gate first ball.
Gay could finally breathe a sigh of relief when he pouched a chance offered by Matt Critchley who edged to the slips to give White his first wicket.
In the evening session Khushi, who hit 118 against Northamptonshire in the Royal London Cup last month, looked to pick up where he had left off, driving pleasantly through extra cover and down the ground.
His departure for 26, when he edged Taylor behind to keeper Ricardo Vasconcelos, sparked a further clatter of wickets.
Michael Pepper was next to go when he played an extravagant shot to Berg which flew at a comfortable height to Will Young at first slip.
Next Simon Harmer prodded at one from Taylor and was caught behind by Vasconcelos before White got one to nip back and castle Shane Snater to leave Essex reeling at 152 for eight.
Westley, though, was in defiant mood, reaching his half-century off 122 balls and finding a willing partner in Allison.
The Essex skipper struck six boundaries, slapping White through cover and hitting Sanderson and Berg through midwicket.
Allison had a reprieve on 17 when he hooked Berg and was dropped in the deep by Sanderson but he and Westley have given Essex renewed hope after it seemed they would be bowled out well short of 200.