Hales continues form of his life
Nottinghamshire 388 (Lumb 99, Wessels 71, Shahzad 68*, Read 59) and 211 for 5 (Hales 102*) beat Northamptonshire 260 (Rossington 103) and 338 (Rossington 80, Hall 67, Fletcher 4-76) by five wickets
An unbeaten century from in-form Alex Hales enabled Nottinghamshire to maintain their challenge for the Championship title with a five-wicket success over Northamptonshire at Wantage Road.
A mighty six from Hales took him to 102 not out and lifted Nottinghamshire to their victory target of 211 with more than a session to spare on the final day.
The 25-year-old Hales, who also struck 16 fours as well as that maximum off Andrew Hall, had shared in a stand of 122 with James Taylor to take the match away from the home side. His only life came on 89, with the finishing line in sight, as Hall put him down at slip off Neil Wagner.
Wagner, on debut, had bowled 21 overs without success in the first innings and a further 12 in the second before he rekindled Northamptonshire's hopes of a shock win by removing Taylor and then Samit Patel in quick succession.
However, they gave Hales a second chance and Riki Wessels helped bring the match to a swift conclusion as 21 came off the next Wagner over, the 28-year-old striking three fours and a huge six over long on en route to finishing unbeaten on 29.
That proved to be the penultimate over of the match as Wessels and Hales took 11 runs from Hall to seal the match. Hales, who has also scored centuries against Middlesex and Sussex in recent weeks as well as a hundred for the England Lions, believes he is in the form of his life.
"I'm absolutely delighted to get us over the line like that. That's such an important victory in our season but even after losing those early wickets we were still confident and I thought James Taylor played absolutely beautifully,'' Hales said.
"Riki Wessels totally took the game away from them at the end there and I thought I was running out of chances to get to a hundred. Following the tons for the Lions last week, at Lord's on Thursday and now today I feel I'm in the best form of my career and I hope it continues.''
Northants had made a positive start to the day with Mohammad Azharullah removing both openers for ducks in his first two overs.
Steven Mullaney fell to the fourth ball of the day, edging behind to Ben Duckett, who was keeping wicket in place of the absent Adam Rossington. The first runs then came courtesy of two lots of four leg byes but the third time Ajmal Shahzad was hit on the pads was enough for umpire Nick Cook to uphold a successful lbw appeal against him.
Worse was to follow for the title contenders as Michael Lumb went for 6. Lumb had scored 99 in the first innings, so his early departure after wandering across his stumps to expose his leg stump to David Willey gave the hosts another massive boost.
However, Hales and Taylor then combined to transfer the complexion of the post-lunch session.
With Hales repeatedly battering the boundary boards by punishing anything with width, and Taylor cleverly rotating the strike and turning ones into twos, they gradually turned a challenging day into a race for the line with their 29-over stand.
The home side had competed as equals for much of the four-day contest but having let Nottinghamshire escape - the visitors having been 25 for four on the first evening - the outcome was ultimately predictable.
Nottinghamshire's victory, their sixth of the season, earned them 23 points and keeps them hard on the heels of leaders Yorkshire, whilst Northamptonshire, still looking for their first Championship success of the season, took only four points from the contest and slipped to their 10th defeat in 12 matches.
Despite the loss, Northants coach David Ripley was able to take plenty of positives from the match.
He said: "Over the four days it reminded me of the Somerset game where we were competitive over a number of those days, winning at least two, but on the one that we lost Notts made significant strides in getting away from us.
"We've played against one of the best teams in the country over four days and we've got a lot to be positive about. In the Championship, our last two games have been good, competitive games of cricket, not getting hammered by an innings and we've had chances to win.''