Worcestershire v Northants, New Road, 1st day

Hall's five puts Division One in sight

George Dobell at New Road

September 24, 2013

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Northamptonshire 103 for 4 trail Worcestershire 163 (Shantry 55*, Pardoe 51, Hall 5-30) by 60 runs
Scorecard


Andrew Hall celebrates bowling Andrea Agathangelou, Lancashire v Northamptonshire, County Championship, Division Two, Old Trafford, 1st day, June 20, 2013
Andrew Hall took advantage of some brittle Worcestershire batting © Getty Images
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It is remarkable how much can change in a year. Twelve months ago, Northamptonshire finished the season with fewer wins across the three competitions than any side in the land and their lowest Championship finish - eighth in Division Two - since 1978.

Now they are the FLt20 champions and about 150 runs short of promotion. They have, despite a modest budget and a far from glorious history, emerged as the most improved side in the county game and, like Durham, have proved that the cheque book is not the answer when trying to improve results.

Promotion is not yet guaranteed. They came into this game requiring five points to ensure they could not be overhauled by Essex. Now, with three bowling bonus points secure, they require a total of 250 - and the resultant two batting bonus points that will bring - to be certain of elevation. They have not played in Division One since 2004 and, before the FLt20 success, had not won a trophy since 1992.

They were not made to work too hard for their bowling points. Winning an important toss against a weak batting unit on a helpful wicket, they allowed only three men to reach double figures and only two to pass 12. David Willey, with a fine new ball spell, made the vital inroads, but Worcestershire will be disappointed at the lack of opposition they provided.

Northamptonshire were made to work harder with the bat. Though Stephen Peters and Alex Wakely both played some pleasing strokes, the former was beaten by one that nipped back and the latter by one that turned sharply to leave Northamptonshire reliant on their middle and lower order once again. Still 60 behind and 147 from a second batting point, there is plenty of work ahead for them on day two.

These are two clubs of contrasting fortunes. They are similarly financially challenged - Worcestershire actually have a larger cricket budget than Northamptonshire - yet while one club has vibrancy and ambition about it, the other seems prepared to drift into gentle irrelevance. While there is plenty of disgruntled chuntering among the Worcestershire membership, so long as tea is served on time in the Ladies Pavilion, it seems most will put up with the slide.

The continuing excellence of Alan Richardson - who with the wicket of Peters claimed his 250th first-class victim for the club in his fourth season - has masked problems at New Road for some time, but the failure of talented young players to develop as was anticipated suggests danger ahead. The likes of Alexei Kervezee, who cannot get in the first team at present, Richard Jones, who is on loan at Warwickshire, and Aneesh Kapil, who has been released, were, not so long ago, thought to be the future of the club. And while the failure of one such player might be put down to individual problems, the failure of all three suggests deeper rooted issues.

There is mixed news off the pitch, too. While the new facilities - conferencing and the like - built as part of the hotel development will provide additional revenue for the club, it is anticipated that Worcestershire will declare a financial loss of over £100,000 for the year. Bearing in mind they had the benefit of a tourist game against Australia this season and that is serious cause for concern.

Here Worcestershire batted - a ninth-wicket stand of 72 aside - with a fragility that explained their mid-table position in the Division Two table. While negating the new ball was tricky on a misty morning - Willey, nipping the ball around sharply, claimed two wickets in the opening over - it speaks volumes that three batsmen - Thilan Samaraweera, Tom Fell and Shaaiq Choudhry - were bowled leaving straight deliveries. While Daryl Mitchell could console himself in the knowledge he received a beauty, Ross Whiteley simply missed a straight one and Ben Cox was punished for playing slightly across the line.

The chief beneficiary of the weak batting was Andrew Hall, who claimed the 17th five-wicket haul of his career and passed 600 career victims on the way. His pace may be reduced but, he hits the seam, gains some movement and maintains a tight line and length. He will rarely have taken a softer five-wicket haul, though.

It could have been much worse for Worcestershire. From 76 for 7, they recovered somewhat through the efforts of Matt Pardoe and Jack Shantry. With Pardoe, an old-school obdurate opener, making one end safe, Shantry chanced his arm at the other and breezed to a 62-ball half-century with seven fours and one straight six against the offspin of James Middlebrook. It was not all text book, but the pair demonstrated admirable application, nous and fight.

Eventually Pardoe dragged his back foot and was stumped - a fine piece of work by the deeply impressive David Murphy - and the tailenders were blown away, leaving Shantry with a career-best effort with the bat.

There are some clouds on Northamptonshire's horizon, however. It appears they are unable to gain work permits for either Trent Copeland, the Australian seamer who made such an impact this season, or Cameron White, who was so influential in the T20 success. Neither will return in 2014.

It remains to be seen whether David Sales will be back. His dismissal here, slicing to point, leaves him 98 runs short of the 1,000 Championship run landmark that would automatically invoke a clause in his contract ensuring he will be offered a new deal. The smart money suggests he will be back whether he reaches the landmark or not and, for the first time in a decade, playing in Division One.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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