Northamptonshire 194 (Wood 4-52, Hutton 3-52) and 270 (Levi 115, Newton 53; Wood 4-31, Hutton 3-74) beat Nottinghamshire 151 (Kleinveldt 9-65) and 189 (Kleinveldt 4-33, Gleeson 3-52) by 124 runs
And so it will all go down to the last week of the season. So much was made clear late on a September morning stolen from May when Richard Gleeson plucked out Brett Hutton's off stump and sent it tumbling in the direction of Pitsford Water. With both promotion and the Second Division title at stake, three counties must desport themselves like the noble forces in Shakespeare's history plays:
Northants bestir yourselves! Leicester awaits.
The men of Durham shall to Worcester go.
And Sussex Downs must Notts accommodate.
But it might be necessary for Nottinghamshire's cricketers to bind up a few hidden wounds before they journey to Hove. Northants' Ben Duckett may have broken his finger and Alex Wakely copped a painful blow to his mush in this match but Nottinghamshire have lost their last two four-day games and will begin their game against Sussex six points behind the leaders, Worcestershire, and only 13 ahead of their conquerors in this game.
Northamptonshire, for their part, will make the very short trip to Grace Road in blithe mood. They have won eight of their 13 Championship matches this season and know they must win a ninth to put pressure on the counties above them. But their utterly deserved 124-run defeat of Nottinghamshire showed them to be in excellent form Marrying professionalism with a deep and obvious enjoyment of their work, Northamptonshire's cricketers spent the final two hours of their home season taking seven wickets for 82 runs. Then they had a laugh about it all, belted out the team song at a louder volume than head coach David Ripley had ever heard and settled into a liquid afternoon.
Ripley admitted that his team are "desperate to do well in red-ball cricket" but he also knows they will never be a bunch of humourless sobersides. On the contrary, a smile is never far from their faces and they will always choose the fearless path to victory. Richard Levi's match-transforming century on the second day of this game perfectly illustrated that approach, as did Rory Kleinveldt's career-best 13 wickets for 98. You would travel a long way to find two less isotonically-inclined cricketers but only a fool would doubt their effectiveness.
Kleinveldt's skill was made evident after just half an hour on a morning when Nottinghamshire's final seven wickets disappeared almost as quickly as a packet of Hobnobs in a press box. For the second time in the match Cheteshwar Pujara was discomfited by Kleinveldt's lift and caught at second slip by Levi; two overs later the Job-like Jake Libby, who had spent 194 minutes over 42 runs was tempted into an uncharacteristic fence outside the off stump and David Murphy did the rest. Belief drifted into the Ken Turner Stand and was mixed with hope. Neither fear nor Nottinghamshire's batsmen could remove it
Samit Patel and Riki Wessels attempted to resettle the innings but it was no good. Ben Sanderson had bowled beautifully on the third morning of this game but without reward. Now he beat Wessels twice outside the off stump before the batsman shuffled across his stumps and was left to reflect on his overcompensation during a slow walk back to the pavilion. Tom Moores followed Wessels three overs late when a Gleeson inswinger left umpire David Millns with no option. Nottinghamshire were now 152 for 7 and not even halfway to their target.
Chris Read joined Patel, two of the doughtiest fighters in their county's cause, two batsmen, one thought, who were capable of rescuing that cause should it seem lost. But not this morning. Having posted a long leg and a deep square leg, Gleeson dug one in and Patel hooked it straight to the delighted substitute fielder, Saif Zaib.
Perhaps Northampton has always inspired such generosity. After the great fire of 1675, Charles II gave a thousand "tun" of timber to help with the rebuilding of All Saints church and seven years' chimney money towards the reconstruction of the town. The modern age has seen no diminution in the largesse. "Tattoo Phil's" proclaims a shop sign in the Wellingborough Road, although it is unclear whether this is an offer or a command, nor is it quite plain what portion of Phil requires decoration.
Patel stood aghast at his error and walked slowly off the field. We were nearly done. Read edged Buck to Levi and Gleeson ended the match on the stroke of lunch. It is so like Northamptonshire's players not to let cricket delay a meal. Perhaps there was satisfaction if not joy in the villas on Billing Road and in the prim, proud terraces which surround this rich and lovely ground.
Perhaps the news even filtered through to Sheep Street Quality Butchers where the window already boasts an advert for Christmas Hampers. But such crude nonsense can be ignored for a week, if not a couple of months. Instead, we can ponder Hove, Worcester, Leicester. Three theatres and four days to warm us against the advancing dark. It makes you realise what Charters and Caldicott were on about.