Rob Keogh gave Northamptonshire supporters a rare moment to celebrate with a stunning century against Essex at Wantage Road, scoring 154 off just 145 balls.
Keogh put on a show with boundaries all around the ground as Northamptonshire claimed their first batting bonus point at home this summer and closed on 279 for six on day one of this LV= Insurance County Championship match.
Keogh batted with a sense of freedom, taking the positive, attacking route, but timing the ball to perfection and not offering any chances. Strong on the drive and cut and punching firmly off the backfoot, when Essex resorted to bowling short, he dismissively hooked and pulled the ball away to the ropes, hitting 23 fours and four sixes.
He ticked off milestones along the way too, passing 6,000 career first-class runs and becoming Northamptonshire’s highest run scorer in the Championship this season. The innings neatly bookends his season following 116 in the club’s opening fixture against Kent in April.
Keogh came to the wicket after Jamie Porter (2-82) had struck twice, finding plenty of movement outside off-stump and immediately took the positive route against the Essex seamer, sharing a stand of 107 with Saif Zaib (28) in exactly 25 overs.
Earlier Essex won the toss and decided to field and Sam Cook and Porter took a wicket apiece to reduce Northamptonshire to 23 for two after five overs. First Emilio Gay was adjudged to have edged Cook behind to the keeper. Then in the next over Porter squared up Steelbacks skipper Luke Procter, the ball flying off the inside edge to Matt Critchley at third slip who took a good low catch.
Azad was joined by Indian batter Karun Nair and the pair batted for 12 overs, putting on 40. Azad moved onto 32, picking up five somewhat streaky boundaries behind square on both sides of the wicket. He eventually middled one through backward point before Simon Harmer’s second delivery earned the breakthrough, an arm ball which trapped Azad lbw in a flurry of bat and pad.
Nair (21), fresh from scoring 150 at the Oval last week, played a couple of handsome shots including a beautifully timed on drive off Porter, but departed when he got an inside edge onto his stumps against the same bowler with Northamptonshire 95 for four.
Keogh then took command against Porter, driving through midwicket and extra cover, pulling over midwicket and guiding him off the backfoot to bring up Northamptonshire’s 100 in the 27th over.
After reaching his half-century off 62 balls before tea, Keogh continued to score freely after the interval, garnering 14 off one over from Harmer. He slog swept the spinner for four, hit the next ball onto the Lynn Wilson Centre roof over long-on for six and then played a backfoot punch for another boundary.
He moved towards three figures by pulling Porter for six and four and then swung Matt Critchley through mid-on to bring up his 16th first-class century off 105 balls. Consecutive boundaries followed off Umesh Yadav including a push down the ground for four before he pulled the Indian paceman behind square for six and smashed him back over his head for four more.
Zaib largely played the supporting role to Keogh but deployed the sweep shot against the spinners to good effect before he was deemed to be caught behind off Critchley, replays suggesting some daylight between bat and ball. In his next over Critchley (2-22) trapped McManus lbw with no doubt to leave Northamptonshire 214 for six.
Keogh though was joined by Justin Broad who kept him company in a partnership of 65 off 76 balls, scoring just 17 as Keogh went on the rampage at the other end.