Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
Northamptonshire230 and 200 (Gleeson 5-50) lead Lancashire 415 (Jennings 97, Vilas 97, Bailey 68, Jones 67, Wood 5-72) by 15 runs
"Northamptonshire found me. They gave me the opportunity to play first-class cricket and I owe my career to them. If it hadn't been for them, I could still be coaching in schools."
Richard Gleeson will never tire of saying what he owes to Northamptonshire. The unfortunate thing for his former muckers, though, was that he made a fine job of concealing his debt on the third afternoon and evening of this game when he took four wickets in 15 very fiery deliveries and collected 5 for 50 in the innings, thus leaving him with a career-best 10 for 113 in the match.
Perhaps demolition is the sincerest form of gratitude. Far more likely, of course, what we saw at Old Trafford was simple professionalism. Alex Wakely and his players might be gratified to hear the first and will understand the second. Damn all else will console them this evening. Sometimes it is not the best idea to stay in a hotel overlooking the ground on which you are playing. For when Wakely and his players have dined, they will look out on the cricket field when they subsided for the second time in three days.
Having managed only 200 in their second innings, Northamptonshire's players will go out to field tomorrow with a total of only 15 to defend. Cricketers are fond of saying that a match will look very different if they "go bang-bang", that is to say, if they take two very quick wickets. Tomorrow Northants need to go bang-times-ten. They know they have already lost the game and Wakely is the sort of rock-solid skipper who will not conceal his team's failure.
"We have been totally outplayed by Lancashire in this match," he said. "There are ways to win and ways to lose. Even when you're up against it, you want to put up a fight. You want to be competitive and we haven't been today."
No one should dispute that judgement but they should give immense credit to Gleeson, who less than two years ago was an important member of the Northants side which came precious close to winning promotion from the Second Division. Last summer the Blackpool-born cricketer returned home to Lancashire - who were promptly relegated. This evening he showed why his home county were keen to lure him back.
For the truth is that deep into the final session most spectators at Old Trafford were more or less reconciled to this game going well into the final day. Despite conceding a first-innings lead of 185 and then slumping weakly to 87 for 4, Rob Keogh and Josh Cobb were mounting a recovery in traditional Northants fashion: gritty, unfussy and effective.
But Gleeson had other plans. He had earlier dismissed Wakely, who conspired in his own downfall when he slapped an innocuous delivery straight to Haseeb Hameed at cover. That brought the number of donated wickets up to two; Ricardo Vasconcelos had earlier done more or less the same to a ball from Tom Bailey.
But Gleeson had not bowled that well and Lancashire's attack was running out of puff. They needed a fourth morning we thought. But suddenly the ball was flying around the batsmen's shoulders and it was doing so at pace. Cobb was expecting another chest concerto when a full length ball trapped him leg before for 30. Next over Keogh was caught by Dane Vilas down the leg side for 42. Six balls later Gleeson burst through Rob Newton's defences and two balls later he brought one back off the seam to castle Jamie Overton.
"I decided to try a little bit of short stuff to get the batsman's feet not moving quite as much," said Gleeson. "It came out nicely and the plan worked. I bowled a few short ones at Rob Keogh and that put a little bit of doubt in the other batsmen's minds. They were maybe sitting back a little and a couple were caught waiting for the short ball."
Suddenly a three-day finish was in prospect. An extra half-hour was claimed and Liam Livingstone took two wickets in successive overs to end the innings. But by then, the lead was 15 and the day was done. The players, the support staff, the media and no doubt more than a few spectators will rock up to see a few overs' cricket. Apparently entrance is free; once again Lancastrian generosity is unbounded.
Vilas will turn up and hope he doesn't have to bat. His 97 had ensured that Lancashire would build a mighty lead in the earlier part of this very long day. Mind you, he was helped by Bailey, whose career-best 68 offered another indication that his career is developing very pleasantly. But these were some of the finer hours in Gleeson's career and we should return to him.
A few years back he thought his future lay in coaching. Then that great cricket man David Ripley, the Northamptonshire head coach, rang and asked him if he fancied a few games for their second team. And now, as these words are tapped out in the gathering dusk of a wonderful day, Gleeson is buying a round of drinks for his Lancashire colleagues to mark his career-best performance on his home debut.
"I've never had a ten-for before," he told the press, his eyes gleaming with pleasure, "So I'm hugely proud and very happy that I don't have to do any bowling tomorrow."
If you love this game, it will love you back.