Improved Derbyshire chase promotion
Derbyshire 364 and 171 for 4 v Northamptonshire 275
Usually when Derbyshire are in the news, it's because some halfwit is claiming they are just the sort of club which should be bull-dozed in an attempt to 'improve the intensity' of the county game.
While that argument might not hold much water, Derbyshire haven't always helped themselves. They have not produced an England player since Dominic Cork (who some might argue was a product of Staffordshire), have not played in the top division of the County Championship since 2000 - the first year of two divisions - and they are the only team in the land to never achieve promotion in either limited-overs or first-class cricket. They have, for a while, struggled to justify their existence. It's harsh to state, but they've flirted with irrelevance.
Perhaps, however, all that is starting to change. Just two months after they sacked their former director of cricket, Jon Morris, the signs are that the 'new' team is emerging as genuine promotion candidates. Indeed, if they win this game, they will have put themselves right in the thick of the promotion chase. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to state that their whole season could be defined by the final day of this game.
The simple fact is this: going into the last day, they lead by 260 runs. While that might not sound too impressive, it should be understood that the pitch is showing increasing signs of uneven bounce and batting last could prove very tricky. Had 23 overs not been lost to rain and bad light on the end of the third day, their position would have been even stronger.
If they do go on to win, they will be particularly grateful for the contribution of Mark Turner. The 26-year-old fast bowler, now with his third county, produced the first five-wicket haul of a first class career that began in 2005 to help earn his side an 89-run lead on first innings.
While Turner has often bowled with pace, here he also demonstrated excellent control, claiming his last four wickets at the cost of just two runs, including a spell of three for none in 18 balls. The wickets of Niall O'Brien and Lee Daggett, stumps sent flying by swinging yorkers, were especially pleasing.
Wes Durston also batted well. Durston, another former Somerset man, took several painful blows on the arms as the ball reared horribly, but thrashed a run-a-ball half-century to snuff out Northants' hopes of a counter-attack. Hitting the ball with unusual power, Durston was particularly severe on the spin of Rob White and James Middlebrook, plundering 41 off them in their four overs including an enormous straight six off the latter.
Northants didn't really help themselves. Chaminda Vaas, who is starting to look every one of his 37 years, has bowled 10 no-balls in this match, with the most costly of them inducing an edge from Wayne Madsen that was comfortably taken at slip. Madsen, on 7 at the time, went on to score 48 and added 87 with Durston.
Daggett bowled well, however. Hitting a better length than his colleagues, he was able to exploit the uneven bounce and, with his first delivery, dismissed Martin Guptill, caught off the glove from a brute of a ball that reared, before Durston's valuable innings was ended by a similar delivery.
Northants' season is also at something of a crossroads. Their lead at the top of the Division Two table - a lead that looked unassailable a few weeks ago - is starting to look precarious, with the team having surrendered their unbeaten record in all competitions and enduring a horrible run of form in the FLt20.
It appears increasingly unlikely that fast bowler Jack Brooks will be with them next year, too. Northants have now received five formal 28-day approaches from other counties keen to talk to Brooks and Martyn Moxon, Yorkshire's director of cricket, was at Wantage Road on the third day to take a closer look.
It was not, perhaps, the most distinguished performance of Brook's season, but he has proved himself a decent performer over the last year or so and has bowled as well as anyone in county cricket this season. The clamour for his services also says something about the scarcity of fast bowlers in the county game at present.
There was one more notable visitor at Wantage Road. Winston Davis, the former West Indies fast bowler who spent fours season with Northants between 1987 and 1990 returned to the club to attend the annual former players' day.
Sadly the years since have not been as kind to Davis as they might have been. Davis, who memorably took 7 for 51 against Australia in the 1983 World Cup, suffered horrific injuries after he fell from a tree in 1998 and was paralysed from the neck down. Needless to say, he was afforded a very warm welcome on his return to the club.