Northamptonshire 217 (Rossington 82, Rushworth 5-68) and 235 for 6 (Levi 60, Rossington 52) lead Durham 131 (Sanderson 6-54) by 321 runs
David Ripley provided a glowing reference for Adam Rossington in June when Northamptonshire announced that the wicketkeeper would assume temporary charge of the Championship side following the resignation of Alex Wakely as captain. Over the past two days, Rossington has confirmed why the head coach was so fulsome in his praise.
Victory this week may not be quite enough for Northants to guarantee promotion to the first division, but it would eliminate Durham as fellow contenders should Gloucestershire beat Worcestershire at New Road. Just when clubs are looking for captains to lead by example, Rossington has brought considerable influence to bear.
He has struck half-centuries of vastly different fashion in each innings and become his county's leading run-scorer for the summer along the way. In between, he removed Ned Eckersley with a brilliant legside stumping when his opposite wicketkeeper was trying to coax the Durham tail towards a deficit of below 50 on first innings. If Northants did champagne moments, this would have been it.
All is not yet lost for Durham because the sun has burnt off much of the green tinge on the pitch and they will have plenty of time to chase whatever the fourth-innings target. But some of the bounce has been variable, Scott Steel made the odd one turn and they will be following their second lowest first-innings total of the season, 131. Ben Sanderson and Brett Hutton were all over them.
Sanderson has already reached 50 wickets for the third time in four seasons and he is on course for matching the 60 victims removed in 2018. Numbers four and five of the innings accrued to his third and sixth balls of the second day, but the swarthy and powerful Hutton was at least as dangerous and moved the ball just as consistently.
Rossington was prepared to stand up to both, enabling the standout dismissal of the day. With Eckersley lifting his back foot when Hutton drifted down the leg side, Rossington performed the wicketkeepers' equivalent of the Timewarp: two skips to the left and a sweep of the arm to the right, before hitting the stumps with a flourish. All it lacked was the pelvic thrust.
It needed dexterity and hand-eye co-ordination. Posting a video recording of the dismissal on Twitter, Richard Vasconcelos, the injured Northants batsman/keeper, noted: "That's four byes if I'm there." There might have been a touch of modesty, but it is true that even a basic stop would have drawn applause. Hutton told team-mates it had all been a ploy; not all were convinced.
From 42 for 6, Durham had recovered to within a run of the hundred thanks to Eckersley and Ben Raine, prompting Rossington to return to his frontline pair. After a cluster of wickets, Matt Salisbury and Chris Rushworth offered a few late blows, but the lead of 86 looked very handy indeed. Furthermore, Durham had fallen further behind Northants on bonus points for the game.
They made the early breakthrough they needed when Rob Newton, handicapped by a hand injury sustained in the field on the first day, pushed only half-forward to Raine's first ball. Rushworth threatened, as always, but without getting the edge. Meanwhile, some of Durham's ground fielding was poor even allowing for the scrubbiness of the late-season square.
Slip catches accounted for Ben Curran and Wakely in successive overs, and when Rob Keogh fell cheaply to give Salisbury a second wicket, Northants were effectively 151 for 4 and probably only just ahead. The next hour would be critical, but it was an hour that Northants won decisively thanks to the enterprise of Richard Levi and Rossington in adding 91 at nearly five an over.
Both are in a shape best described as comfortable. No matter: they were hitting cricket balls, not auditioning for the Chippendales. In his third game of the season, Levi recorded his first half-century from 59 balls and proceeded to strike Salisbury beautifully for successive fours through extra cover. Rossington, who blitzed 60 from 22 balls during a mad period on Monday, played with more circumspection this time and reached his own fifty from 94 balls.
"It was a challenge and there were one or two plays and misses, but we were good enough to put the four-ball away and relieve the pressure," Levi said. "If you show intent you have a chance. When we went four-down, I think perhaps Durham sniffed something and searched for the next wicket a bit. 'Rosso' was very calming and we complement each other by scoring in different areas."
Levi fell to Rushworth's first ball back, pulling to deep square leg to give the bowler a wicket he deserved, just not with one like that. Rossington's technique served him well. He is still at the point of release and plays straight. Raine appeared to beat him for pace, but on a warm day, the attack was entitled to tire thereafter and Luke Procter added important runs before winding down towards close.