Northants fight a crumb for Peters
Northamptonshire180 (Chapple 5-51, Smith 4-26) and 231 for 8 (Smith 3-56) trail Lancashire 650 for 6 dec by 239 runs
Stephen Peters is a proud man. Quite pardonably unwilling to offer his views on the second evening of this game, after his side had been hammered to the distant shore of oblivion, the Northamptonshire skipper surely hoped against probability that the rest of the Division One contest would offer him some encouragement as he prepares for the second half of the County Championship season.
To a limited degree Peters' hopes were realised. True, Lancashire need just two wickets to complete a heavy innings victory, but many of Northamptonshire's batsmen fought as hard as they were able on the third day and they will begin the final morning on 231 for 8. Perhaps they therefore deserved the bad light which prevented Lancashire claiming the final half-hour.
No one exemplified the visitors' spirit of defiance against overwhelming odds more clearly than Andrew Hall, who followed his unbeaten 42 in the first innings with 36 not out in the second. Hall has now faced 200 balls in this match and if Peters' men are to get through the rest of this summer without suffering too many psychological scars, they will need to follow the South African's example. "This morning our objective was to get through today and bring everyone back tomorrow," Peters said. "We've managed to do that and we have to take small crumbs of comfort where we can at the moment."
Indeed, the morning had not begun too badly for Peters. His last three wickets added 67 runs, and then he and James Middlebrook had put on 39 more in fairly unruffled fashion before lunch. The follow-on, of course, had been taken for granted. Lancashire had a 470-run first-innings lead, the third-highest in their history, and Glen Chapple had only bowled 11 balls in the morning session. Saving the game would probably take Northants more than five sessions, ie. the rest of the match.
For Peters and his men, though, relief drops slow and slight this benighted summer. Fifteen minutes after the resumption Nigel Cowley gave the Northants captain out lbw for 41 when Tom Smith brought one back off the seam. Peters stood long and hard at the crease, perhaps considering the vicissitudes visited upon good men. More likely, he may have been disappointed with the decision. No matter; he had to trudge off.
An hour later Northants were 111 for 4 and the cream of their top order had departed in uncontroversial fashion: Richard Levi edging Smith to Paul Horton, Middlebrook nicking Kyle Hogg to Jos Buttler two balls later and Rob Newton losing his off stump when he failed to jab down on a Wayne White delivery.
Rain and bad light then trimmed 15 overs off the day's allocation but the elements did nothing to change the direction of the contest. In the 26 overs remaining to them Lancashire's attack grabbed four more wickets, two of them falling to Simon Kerrigan, who had Matt Spriegel lbw for 29 before having Ben Duckett caught by silly point, Alex Davies, the ball lobbing up off bat and pad. Only David Willey exhibited any impatience, the left-hander whacking his second ball from Kerrigan for six before miscuing Smith to Chapple at mid-on next over.
At such a juncture in the match and with little rain forecast, many sides might have settled for a cheery thrash, an early journey home and a night in their own beds. But, whatever their other problems, the Northants players are made of tougher stuff. Steven Crook joined Hall and frustrated his former side by making 36 and adding exactly 50 for the eighth wicket before, to his evident disappointment, he pulled the first ball of White's spell straight to Usman Khawaja at deep-backward square leg.
Graeme White also followed the line of most resistance and was undefeated on 5 when the light closed in. Lancashire's players will no doubt take great comfort from the imminence of victory, few more so than Smith, whose seven wickets in this match takes his total in Division One to 40 this summer.
Chapple, too, can be happy with matters. Lancashire's captain has bowled with real fire in this game and few things were more heartening for home supporters than to see him running in under full sail from the Pavilion End, still dead keen for his beloved Lancy, still crazy after all these years.