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Wessels defies bowlers' day as 20 wickets fall

Nottinghamshire 213 (Wessels 69, Mullaney 58, Azharullah 5-63, Gleeson 4-38) and 19 for 0 lead Northamptonshire 141 (Cobb 46*, Hutton 3-25, Wood 3-35) by 91 runs

Whether everything that Nottinghamshire touch this summer will turn to gold will only become apparent this weekend at NatWest Blast Finals Day, but certainly they returned to Championship action after the mid-season break against Northants at Trent Bridge with their exuberance undimmed.

A 50-point cushion over Northants, who lie third, with six matches remaining, promises immediate promotion from Division Two and most likely as champions - not that they would be so unprofessional as to admit it - and the Royal London One-Day Cup is already won. What chance three trophies in the venerable, chimney-potted pavilion come September to mark Peter Moores' first season in charge?

Nottinghamshire's 213 was obviously a sturdy total on an extravagantly seaming pitch, but it looked gigantic once Northants took guard. Northants might be many neutrals' favourite T20 side, a team of considerable heft, but the manner in which they capitulated to 141 all out - itself a recovery from 59 for 7 in 20 overs - suggested they do not remotely envisage grinding out a serious promotion challenge throughout September.

As for Notts, assuming the pitch retains its character, they can anticipate the best part of two days off before heading to Edgbaston and switching their thoughts back to T20.

For the first time this season a toss at Trent Bridge was contested: both counties eager to bat. The ground gleamed white under sunlit pale blue skies, the colour scheme of a coastal cottage, but a mottled brown pitch resembled the after-effects of an especially high tide. Even as Northants made inroads, they just seemed to be marking time before Notts got hold of the ball. Both attacks bowled splendidly.

Azharullah bowled with commendable pep and skill for a season's-best 5 for 63 for Northants and Richard Gleeson surfed some late waves for four wickets, but their efforts in bowling out Notts in two sessions were to no avail when Northants themselves fell in less than one.

Notts' innings was based around two half-centuries: another worthy affair at the top of the order from Steven Mullaney, fifth out for 58 when Rory Kleinveldt cut a ball back to bowl him, and 69 in 80 balls from Riki Wessels which was drawn increasingly from the limited-overs songbook.

Mullaney coped with conditions as admirably as anybody, his streakiest moment coming with his ninth boundary which flashed through the slips to bring up his fifty. Wessels, a T20 opener given licence at No. 6 in the Championship, changed tack after Notts lost their sixth wicket, that of Chris Read, and took five boundaries off Kleinveldt's next over before indulging in several unsuccessful ramp shots against the seaming ball. A last-wicket stand of 32 with Harry Gurney completed Notts' escape before he skied Gleeson to be last out.

If Cheteshwar Pujara, the Indian Test batsman, had returned to county cricket to extend his education in English conditions ahead of India's tour next summer, the loss of his off-stump as he drove at Azharullah was a degree level question which he flunked by some distance. Samit Patel and Brett Hutton were bowled shouldering arms to Azharullah and the clamour for Alex Hales to be selected for England's Ashes tour party as a middle-order batsman was briefly silenced when the same bowler dismissed him for 4, on the drive.

The call for Hales carries some validity, but even allowing for bursts of brilliance in limited-overs cricket, he will need to add further substance in the Championship to the double century he made against Derbyshire three weeks ago.

Northants can't have been helped by Ben Duckett's broken finger, nor by the late withdrawal of Max Holden, who had been secured from Middlesex for a second loan period only to be immediately summoned back to London by his director of cricket, Angus Fraser, because of injury concerns surrounding three senior batsmen, all of whom were ultimately passed fit.

That entailed an unexpected call-up for David Murphy, a wicket-keeper batsman who has been laid low for much of the season with a back disc problem and who has already announced his intention to retire at the end of the season to take up a law post in London.

Murphy and his fellow opener, Rob Newton, fell to catches at the wicket, Jake Ball yorked Alex Wakely, Luke Wood sent Richard Levi's off stump many a mile and when Rob Keogh, Adam Rossington and Kleinveldt fell within nine balls, Northants were seven down and had still to avoid the follow-on. They did so with Josh Cobb to the fore in an unbeaten 46, but they have quite a task to turn this game on its head.