Thakor the saviour for Leicestershire
Leicestershire 299 (Thakor 61, Sarwan 59, Henderson 56*) and 227 for 8 (Eckersley 57, Thakor 39*) drew with Northamptonshire 399 (Peters 148, White 4-94) and 252 for 5 (O'Brien 79, Peters 56)
There are still four matches left but Northamptonshire may have seen their chance of a late run for promotion slip away with their failure to see off their east Midlands neighbours. The draw leaves them 15 points adrift of the two teams in second place, which is probably a gap too far at this stage, although they take one of them - Hampshire - at West End on Wednesday.
Leicestershire owed their escape to Shiv Thakor, whose influence on the whole contest has identified him as a player with a big future. An England player at Under-17 and Under-19 level, although overlooked for the ongoing Under-19 World Cup in Australia, the 18-year-old effectively saved the follow-on in the first innings and followed up with a wonderfully mature display of defiance to stave off defeat.
He finished unbeaten on 39, having batted for two and a half hours under no little pressure as Northamptonshire, having given themselves 88 overs to bowl Leicestershire out, chipped away relentlessly in search of ten wickets. They finished with eight, having whittled out every recognised batsmen bar one, the teenager. Thakor faced 105 balls and was notably impressive against James Middlebrook, the offspinner, rarely putting a foot wrong even with six or even seven fielders around the bat, as was the case while he batted out the last five deliveries of the contest.
As in the first innings, he teamed up most effectively with Claude Henderson, Leicestershire's 40-year-old left-arm spinner. Their unlikely alliance put on 52 this time, more importantly using up 18 overs. His focus turns now to his A-level results, due on Thursday, with offers to weigh up from Durham, Cardiff and Loughborough Universities.
Phil Whitticase, Leicestershire's head coach, is enthused by what the youngster, who also bowls useful medium pace, might become.
"He gave a really mature and responsible performance in the first innings and to do it again in the second innings, under that kind of pressure, when you lose a couple of wickets and find yourself taking the lead role, showed a maturity beyond his years," Whitticase said. "He is mentally strong, too, and when you get that in someone so young it can only speak well of him.
"He has been in our system since he was eight and has been brought up the right way. He has worked with Trevor Ward, at Uppingham School, where he has been since before his GCSEs, and he has been in the England system, too, so he has been taught a lot about how to play spin bowling, how to cope with sledging. But it is one thing talking about it, quite another to actually do it in high pressure moments.
"He has a big decision to make this week. From our point of view, if he decides to defer university a while and concentrate on cricket it would be great but I'm not going to try to make his decision for him. I know that education is an important part of his life."
Impressive though Thakor was, however, it was an opportunity missed by Northamptonshire, who may rue their decision to bat on for 25 minutes on the final morning. Leicestershire finished so far away from the 353 they needed, in theory, to move off the bottom of the table that it was a mystery why Andrew Hall wasted eight overs by not declaring with their overnight lead of 311. By continuing, he at least gave a seemingly out-of-sorts Robbie Joseph time to take his only wicket of the match (26 overs, 1 for 138) by bowling Rob Newton, but seemed to serve no one else's interests.
Nonetheless, the Northamptonshire bowlers gave themselves a chance of finishing the job. After ten of the 88 overs, they had Leicestershire 30 for 2, which would have been 28 for 3 had Alex Wakely not let a chance slip through his hands at third slip. Michael Thornely had driven Andrew Hall off the back foot straight to mid-off and Will Jones, who despatched David Willey with a cracking drive through the covers for four, edged to edge to second slip two balls later. It was Ramnaresh Sarwan who enjoyed the let-off.
In the event, it was not a costly miss. Sarwan had added only 11 more runs when, with left-armer Willey bowling round the wicket, he lost his off stump trying to drive a ball that was too full.
A half-century from Ned Eckersley offered some measure of resistance, but Matt Boyce could not stay with him long and Leicestershire began to hope that the forecast rain would intervene in their favour. It never came, but Thakor did and stayed, for 40 overs.
There was a disappointing blow when Josh Cobb, who played well for his 28, was caught trying to drive Willey and a more predictable one when Wayne White swished at a ball from Middlebrook and was bowled. Seven down entering the final hour, the odds still seemed heavily against Leicestershire's survival but Thakor and Henderson were resolute. The latter's dismissal with 16 balls left, deflecting the ball on to his stumps as he tried to leave, caused a flurry of late excitement, but Thakor's nerve never wavered.