Peters ton sets Northants tone
Northamptonshire 300 for 5 (Peters 137*, O'Brien 70, Hall 59) v Leicestershire
A week after registering his first century of a season that has seen him short of runs, Stephen Peters added another to keep alive Northamptonshire's slim hopes of clinching promotion to Division One.
Time is running out and Derbyshire, the leaders, look out of reach but a victory in this match combined with a couple more in the final quarter of the season might yet put them in contention for second place. After the psychological damage left by last season, when they appeared to have the prize in their grasp only to let a big lead evaporate, they should need little motivation.
There is a new man providing it now - or rather newish. David Ripley, who joined the club as a player in 1984 and has never left, has been on the coaching staff for more than a decade, took charge of the first team temporarily last month after the sacking of David Capel, another long servant, and was told the job was his permanently earlier this week.
There had been suggestions that a fresh voice might be needed to bring renewed vigour to the dressing room but the move has been a popular one among the players. Oddly enough, Peters offered his personal support for the appointment on the eve of this match. If form reflects contentment, then this innings was a further endorsement.
He rarely put a foot wrong, sharing an opening stand of 126 with Niall O'Brien, who was back in the side after his latest tour of duty with Ireland, and one of 139 with Andrew Hall that re-established Northamptonshire's grip after an afternoon session in which Leicestershire had mounted a fightback.
Now 33, Peters has become a solidly dependable opening batsman, blessed with superlative powers of concentration. Yet in full flow he is an attractive strokemaker who can easily switch to attacking mode. His unbeaten 137 would have looked better still, though, had Hall not been out to what became the last ball of the day, driving loosely at a ball from Nathan Buck that provided a catch for wicketkeeper Ned Eckersley. Nonetheless, with a third batting point in the bank and some capable batting to come, Ripley will feel it has been a satisfactory opening day.
Leicestershire are bottom of the table, which has become a sadly familiar position for them. However, they are not so far behind that what remains of the season is meaningless. Indeed, the gap between themselves and Northamptonshire at the start of this match was only 20 points.
Yet for the most part they were disappointing. Josh Cobb, taking charge of his second Championship game after Matthew Hoggard left himself out in favour of Robbie Joseph, chose to bowl first on a grassy wicket on winning the toss but was probably regretting the decision fairly quickly.
None of his bowlers seemed capable of finding anything in it to help their cause and the Northamptonshire openers made the most of a rare opportunity to bat in sustained warm sunshine, finishing the morning session 95 to the good.
The afternoon was much more productive for Leicestershire, albeit within the space of 11 overs. The seamers bowled what you might refer to politely as a mixed bag. There were a few too many easy boundaries, and a bit too much work for Eckersley to do on the leg side of the wicket, yet from time to time there would be a ball that flew past the edge or had the batsman in two minds. Wickets went begging a couple of times for want of an extra slip fielder.
Wayne White, in particular, offered a threat. He has some pace and hostility in his armoury and took two wickets in two balls towards the end of his second spell, breaking the opening partnership when O'Brien, a little flat-footed, edged a drive. The Irishman had looked impressive in reaching 70. Two balls later, David Sales, struggling for runs, edged low to first slip. He did not walk immediately, but after a consultation between the umpires had to accept that the ball had been taken cleanly.
When Shiv Thakor, the 18-year-old allrounder for whom Leicestershire have great hopes, then removed Alex Wakely and Rob Newton within the space of four deliveries, across two overs, Northamptonshire were 161 for 4.
White's third spell deserved more success but Hall and Peters steadily reasserted themselves. Peters reached his century by cutting Claude Henderson, the left-arm spinner, for his 12th boundary and followed it immediately with another. He had increased his tally to 16 by the close.
Whatever else happens in Northamptonshire's season, it will not involve Chaminda Vaas. The 38-year-old former Sri Lanka fast bowler, who was the county's player of the year in 2011, has been released from what remains of his contract after a season dogged by injury problems.