Ben Sanderson showed his class at the first opportunity on a rain-affected first day of the LV= Insurance County Championship season against Gloucestershire at Wantage Road.
Sanderson backed up new skipper Ricardo Vasconcelos’ decision to bowl in seamer-friendly conditions to return 4-38 as the visitors struggled to 164-8 in between the rain squalls.
That total may have been even lower but for the obduracy of England hopeful James Bracey, who defied conditions to top score with an unbeaten 77 before bad light and further rain ended play.
Gareth Berg made the initial strike, picking up former Gloucestershire skipper Chris Dent for a duck, Emilio Gay diving across in front of second slip to snaffle a sharp catch, one of two on the day for the young opener.
The first stoppage for rain soon followed, but once play resumed it wasn’t long before Sanderson, whose 23 previous wickets against Gloucestershire had come at a shade over 16, took centre stage. As usual there was no extreme pace, but his full length and nagging line gave no respite and opener Ben Charlesworth saw his off-stump plucked out before rain drove the players off for an early lunch at 10-2.
Only another 22 balls were bowled after another delayed start before the rain returned once more and the stop-start nature of the cricket meant Sanderson was able to keep bowling every time play resumed and he trapped skipper Graeme Van Buuren lbw just before a further squall sent the players scurrying for cover again.
All this time, Bracey was defying both Sanderson and the conditions. He needed the odd slice of luck, missing one Sanderson leg-cutter and surviving a confident shout for lbw at the hands of the seamer, but he left the ball well, looked tidy and organised and showed tremendous concentration to re-start his knock no less than eight times around the interruptions.
Partners came and went, Miles Hammond perishing to a super slip catch from Gay, while Sanderson returned to end Ryan Higgins’s brief attempt at a counter-attack, before producing the ball of the day to have Tom Lace caught behind – a first catch in Northamptonshire colours for debutant on-loan wicketkeeper Lewis McManus.
Left with the tail, Bracey changed gear, three boundaries in quick succession taking him to his half-century and more followed as he skilfully farmed the strike to nurse debutant Naseem Shah through to the close.
Gloucestershire 164/8 (Sanderson 4/38, Berg 2/32)