Sarwan departure leaves Leicestershire wobbling
Leicestershire 187 for 6 (Sarwan 59) trail Northamptonshire 399 (Peters 148, White 4-94) by 212 runs
The real damage for Leicestershire came in a 12-over spell in the second half of the afternoon session, during which they lost four wickets for 28 runs in sliding to 108 for 5. Needing to reach 250 merely to avoid the follow-on, it was the kind of position that has become the familiar prelude to a short-order defeat. Yet the bigger blow, in psychological terms, happened five overs before the close.
It came in the shape of a disastrous moment of hesitation and misunderstanding that saw Ramnaresh Sarwan run out for 59, ending a partnership with 18-year-old Shiv Thakor, who had been playing with a maturity that says much about his prospects, that looked capable of hauling Leicestershire back into the contest.
It was largely a self-inflicted wound, given that it was from his own push to extra cover that Sarwan, the former West Indies captain, set off in search of a single. But, as ever in such instances, it takes two to conspire in a communication breakdown and after a stop-start moment halfway down the pitch the drama ended with Sarwan attempting in vain to complete the run as Alex Wakely gathered the ball and ran in to break the stumps.
The set of his shoulders as he tucked the bat under his arm and began tearing at his gloves conveyed the depth of Sarwan's disappointment. But you felt for young Thakor, too. He is a cricketer of enormous promise and, while it was Sarwan's authority that dominated a partnership of 75 runs, Thakor had batted sensibly and carefully and was learning so much in the process. Had the two been able to continue on the third morning, they might have gone a long way to staving off potential defeat.
As it is, with the new ball available in five overs, Northamptonshire will be disappointed if it costs them another 63 runs to clean up the last four wickets. Their attack is lacking Jack Brooks, who is still recovering from an Achilles tendon problem, but they have unearthed another capable pace bowler in Oliver Stone, also 18, and with the left-armer David Willey looking impressive lately they are not short of potency.
Stone is playing in only his third first-class match, yet already has the handy habit of taking wickets in the first over of his opening spell. He did so twice against Yorkshire last week and repeated the feat here as Andrew Hall tossed him the ball for the first time in the 17th over. Leicestershire's opening pair had ridden their luck a little against Willey and Lee Daggett but Michael Thornely's ran out as Stone's fifth ball hit him in front.
Will Jones, a Cardiff University student in only his second Championship appearance, was bowled when Hall nipped one back and it was his wicket that set off a collapse, one that was not helped by Ned Eckersley going down the pitch to James Middlebrook's offspin with calamitous consequences, or by the tame flick that had Josh Cobb caught behind off Willey.
Yet Sarwan looked secure, so much so that his record of building profitably on half-centuries seemed sure to continue. It was his seventh of the season. Of the previous six, two had been converted to centuries and there had been three other scores in the 90s.
At 32, and with his international career at least on hold, he seems primed to make an impact in county cricket. Leicestershire think so, certainly, having last month extended his one-year contract to a three-year deal. He may well be the man to lead a renaissance, even if it does not begin here.
Set up by a superb innings by Stephen Peters, which ended on 148 when he lost his off-stump to Nathan Buck in the pursuit of bonus points, Northamptonshire's only - minor - disappointment was that after Middlebrook and Willey had helped David Murphy secure a fourth batting point they ran out of overs to claim a fifth. Given that they were asked to bat first, however - and would have bowled first themselves had they had the chance - the outcome was more than satisfactory.