Northampton, September 19 – 22, 2017
, Specsavers County Championship Division Two
Northants won by 124 runs
Nottinghamshire 80 for 5 ( Kleinveldt 4-34) trail Northants 194 ( Kleinveldt 43, Wood 4-52) by 114 runs
Three days from the autumnal equinox and the thick early morning mist settled on Northampton like a loving cat coiled around a devoted owner. The mist had lifted by the time play began at Wantage Road but Chris Read’s decision to bowl first will surely have been one of his easiest in two decades as a first-class cricketer.
By teatime only the length of the shadows and the gentle browning of the leaves suggested the month but Nottinghamshire’s bowlers had completed their work by then, dismissing Northamptonshire for 194 in a game the home side must win to sustain their chances of promotion. Welcome to September, when the mellow days offer a curious counterpoint to the season’s late hurrahs and a summer’s work can be wasted in the faults and mischances of a black hour.
And, yes, it was just such an error-littered final session, which lay in wait for Nottinghamshire’s batsmen. Four of them were dismissed by Rory Kleinveldt, who had earlier batted with uncomplicated good sense to make 43 off 63 balls. Now, Kleinveldt pitched the ball up in the full knowledge that he could be driven and found that his courage was justified. Steven Mullaney lost his off stump when playing down the wrong line, Cheteshwar Pujara prodded forward uncertainly at his third ball but only gave a catch to Richard Levi at second slip and Jake Libby was leg before on the back foot having battled for over an hour to make just 13.
Kleinveldt even had the energy to return and capitalise on Riki Wessels’s mind-fade ten balls before the close when the batsman who normally scores runs for a hobby against Northants wafted nervously at a ball outside the off stump but only nicked a catch to a delighted David Murphy. Given that another Trent Bridge talisman, Samit Patel, was already back in the pavilion having been trapped in front by Nathan Buck, the joy at Wantage Road needed little imagining. If Northants can concoct a victory here, it will be a three-horse sprint in the final week of the season. The games at Worcester, Hove and Leicester will become hot tickets, warm anyway.
And yet it will still take something rather spectacular to deny Nottinghamshire now. As their bowlers made early inroads on the first morning, one’s mind went back to last September when Read’s players produced some of the worst cricket of their careers and were relegated by 31 points. Proud men were hurt by that and this season has been, among other things, an attempt to expiate the stain on the house by the Trent. Two one-day trophies have been won and if Nottinghamshire can add a divisional title to those triumphs the county’s most successful season will have followed one of their most abject.
Read’s decision to field first may have been straightforward but it was also an expression of confidence in a seam attack lacking, among others, Jake Ball. The bowlers repaid such faith, taking four wickets in the morning session and the remaining six during the afternoon. Luke Wood produced one of his best spells of the season and none of the batsmen played him with the slightest ease. He took his first wicket in his opening over when he swung one into Rob Newton’s pads and only had to bowl six more balls before taking his second when Ben Duckett gave a return catch off the leading edge.
The arrival of Richard Levi heralded a predictable counter-attack. Rather like Baldrick in Blackadder Goes Forth Levi does not believe in waiting for the bullet with his name on it. He prefers to fire a few of his own and had rifled seven fours, most of them authentic, before, like Newton, he was leg before to a Wood inswinger. Levi had at least made 35 runs but by the time he was pinned by Wood, Northants had also lost their skipper Alex Wakely, who was beaten by a ball from Brett Hutton which moved off the seam and went via the edge to Wessels at first slip.
Hutton and the slips resumed their productive relationship immediately after lunch when Rob Keogh and Murphy fell in successive overs to catches by Mullaney. The second of these was routine but the first had been brilliant, Mullaney diving to accept a one-handed catch to his right inches from the ground. Nottinghamshire’s hopes of seizing a decisive advantage increased when Josh Cobb was caught at slip by Wessels off Harry Gurney for a 36 which had been punctuated by thunderous off-drives. But, little though we knew it, 120 for 7 was as good as things got for Read’s players.
Kleinveldt blocked most things that were straight and threw his full artillery at any balls that were wide. His innings was a pivotal effort and it changed the temper of the contest. And even after Kleiveldt had been bowled when he played on to Patel, Buck pitched in with 32 more runs, adding what has become an invaluable 30 to the total with Ben Sanderson and Richard Gleeson.
A couple of hours later on a day when the gentleness of the setting made a curious backdrop to the intensity of the cricket, the game was back in the hazard and promotion issues were suddenly uncertain. The russet-roofed houses and spired churches around Wantage Road are used to witnessing floodlit dramas and short-form tension. But they may need to accustom themselves to something slower but no less vital over the next 48 hours. Read is playing his penultimate first-class match and he probably needs no reminder that Northamptonshire’s fine players often punch above their weight, a phenomenal effort in one or two cases.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
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