Scrapping Northants deny Derbyshire
Northamptonshire 275 and 229 for 5 drew with Derbyshire 364 and 268 for 4
Perhaps it was the loss of 23 overs to poor weather on the third night. Perhaps it was the lack of a really good quality spinner. Or perhaps they were just unlucky; certainly several edges flew tantalisingly close to fielders. But, in the end, Derbyshire had to content themselves with a draw at Northants.
The visitors were the better side for a large portion of the game, but were unable to finish off a home side that bat deep and fight hard. It was, in many ways, an excellent advert for the benefits of two division, four-day cricket. The days when sides simply rolled over and died when the pressure mounts are, largely, gone.
These are exciting times for Derbyshire. Perhaps, in terms of a promotion challenge, this will prove a year too soon. But they have a developing squad of young players - Dan Redfern and Tom Knight are among the talented youngsters who missed this game - and will surely only improve in years to come. The prospect of Mark Turner and Mark Footitt bowling in tandem is mouth-watering. Derbyshire have not been blessed with such pace bowlers for many years.
John Morris is a man with many positive qualities. He has an excellent eye for talent and assembled a gifted squad at Derbyshire. Perhaps, however, he was not the most sympathetic man-manager. His replacement, Kark Krikken, a fellow who shows a bit more carrot and a little less stick, may well prove better at nurturing the developing team. They have some challenges. Greg Smith and Tim Groenewald are both the subject of multiple 28-day approaches from other counties and Derbyshire may face an uphill struggle to persuade the high-quality role-model cricketer to join them for next season. Paul Collingwood remains the target; Rob Key, whatever the rumour-mill may suggest, is not.
Earlier in the day, Derbyshire thrashed 97 in 14 overs to set-up their declaration. Whiteley, who looks a fine prospect, scored his final 35 runs from just 10 balls, with both he and Smith registering selfless half-centuries. It left Northants requiring a most unlikely 358 to win in a minimum of 80 overs.
Any chance they had of achieving that was ended by another excellent spell from Turner. His extra pace accounted for both openers before he had conceded a run which meant that, including his spell that ended the first innings, he had taken five wickets for no runs in 24 balls.
For those who last saw him ball in the CB40 final, it was a remarkable improvement. Rob White briefly lifted hopes of a run-chase as he plundered 18 off one over but, when he was run out after attempting an insane single, the draw was Northants best hope. Jon Clare accounted for Rob Newton, with a full ball, and Mal Loye, with one that bounced more than expected, but O'Brien and Hall ensured there was to be no collapse.
Hall, who passed 50 with two successive sixes, occasionally lived dangerously, but the edges either flew through vacant fourth slip, or bounced just in front of the cordon.
"It was a bridge too far," Krikken said afterwards. "But I'm proud of the way we've played. Turner and Whiteley stuck their hand up in this game and we can take great confidence from the way we've played. But of course I'm disappointed. If we'd have won we'd have put ourselves right in the mix. But I don't want us to get ahead of ourselves. We just need to take it ball-by-ball and match-by-match and we'll do fine. "We've given them a chance to play with freedom. We have a great team spirit and all the guys are enjoying their team-mates' success."
In the end, it wasn't such a bad match for Northants, either. They stopped the rot after the Championship defeat to Essex and the horrid run of T20 form and showed some character as Niall O'Biren and Andrew Hall added an unbroken 106 for the sixth wicket to make the match safe.
They still remain well-placed in the promotion race. They lead the table by 18 points, though Middlesex have a game in hand. More importantly, the lead over third-placed Glamorgan is 20 points.
In the longer-term, their efforts must be to retain the services of promising players such as Jack Brooks. Brooks, who has been one of the best seamers on the circuit this season, is the subject of interest from five other counties, with Yorkshire, Warwickshire and Kent among them.
Many a young man can have their head turned by the offer of big money and the chance to play at a big club. But Brooks is a level-headed fellow. He's enjoying his cricket at Northants, he's enjoying the responsibility he has been given and he's enjoying the company of his team-mates. It would be a bit of a surprise if he left.