Northamptonshire’s seamers shared the spoils as they helped rout Essex’s batting line-up and hold the visitors to 204 for eight on a rain-affected opening day of this LV= County Championship clash at Wantage Road.

But despite wickets falling in clumps, a captain’s knock of 55 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 find 68 runs in 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 Essex were still in the fight by the 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 Tom Taylor’s first over, driving sweetly through the covers.

Taylor finally accounted for Cook when he got one to nip back and hit the stumps, 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 then pouched a chance offered by 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 move, reaching his half-century off 122 balls and finding a willing partner in Allison who had a reprieve on 17 when he hooked Berg but a tough change went down in the deep.