Northants must not waste victory chance
Northamptonshire 399 and 211 for 3 (O'Brien 79, Peters 56) lead Leicestershire 299 (Thakor 61, Sarwan 59, Henderson 56*, Middlebrook 3-36) by 311 runs
After leading from the front and then falling away dramatically in their bid for promotion last season, perhaps Northamptonshire are simply running a canny race this time. Pegging back Derbyshire looks beyond them but a win here will put them right on the shoulders of the group chasing second place in Division Two, poised to strike in the closing laps.
With a lead of 311 going into the final day, they have a decent chance, too, provided they time their declaration prudently and the weather does not wreck their calculations. Should everything go according to plan, 22 points will move them up only one place but put them on 118 points, two behind second-placed Hampshire and Yorkshire, one adrift of Kent.
A fixture list that presents them with only one remaining home match - against Derbyshire - might be said to be disadvantageous. But they take on Hampshire at West End starting on Wednesday, where a win would clearly have added value, and complete their programme against Glamorgan and Gloucestershire, both currently in the bottom three.
First, of course, they have to complete the job in hand, which may require an outstanding performance from their bowlers if Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shiv Thakor can reproduce the capacity to resist that they showed, for the most part, in the first Leicestershire innings. Until the disastrous run-out at the close of the second day, Sarwan looked in commanding form and Thakor's recovery from that mishap was arguably the most impressive feature of the third day.
At the start of the week in which he will learn his A-level results Thakor, the 18-year-old all-rounder, who has been studying latterly at Uppingham School - an institution with a rich cricket tradition - gave no hint of any distractions in a mature, measured performance that effectively denied Northamptonshire the chance to enforce the follow-on. Unfazed by the loss of a seventh Leicestershire wicket in the fifth over of the morning, he set himself to give nothing away, completed his second half-century in four Championship innings and made scarcely a mistake until a ball from James Middlebrook, the offspinner, drew him into a drive that was always too much of a stretch and resulted in a simple catch for extra cover.
By then, into the afternoon session, he and Claude Henderson, who scored an enterprising unbeaten 56, had put on 80 in 23 overs and the follow-on mark had been passed. Northamptonshire's bowling was less threatening than it had been on Saturday but it was a solid, respectable response nonetheless, although Leicestershire still conceded a lead of 100 exactly. Middlebrook took 3 for 36 from 29 overs, more than half of which were maidens.
It was a lead Northamptonshire built on rather too easily for those with an interest in seeing Leicestershire not finish the season in last place. Stephen Peters and Niall O'Brien gave them another terrific start with their second century opening stand of the match, Peters allowing himself the liberty of a couple of sixes in his 56 off 110 balls, O'Brien collecting 10 boundaries in his 96-ball 79. Leicestershire's bowling too often offered too much width.
The exception among them was Will Jones, an Australian-born Cardiff University student who bowls legspin. This is his second Championship match and the first in which he has bowled but his introduction by skipper Josh Cobb in the 34th over brought wickets with his fifth and seventh balls as Peters knocked back a straightforward return catch and O'Brien holed out to deep midwicket, where Robbie Joseph needed a bit of juggling to bring the ball under control but did finally hold on.
Jones then held a catch of his own as David Sales sent up a steepler off Henderson. The ball is now in Northamptonshire's court.