County Championship
County Championship Logo Fri 11 May, 11:00

Edgbaston, Birmingham

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Championship Report: Warwickshire v Northamptonshire

Day Three – report

Warwickshire recorded their third successive Specsavers County Championship victory by beating Northamptonshire by six wickets on the third day at Edgbaston.

Facing a victory target of 179, no formality on a pitch offering some variable bounce, the home side were reduced to 44 for three by an excellent pre-lunch burst of 7.3-2-9-3 by Ben Sanderson.

But opener Will Rhodes stayed firm to lodge his maiden first-class century against a Northamptonshire attack already missing the injured Richard Gleeson and further deprived of Steven Crook, off the field with a hamstring injury.

Rhodes ended with an unbeaten 100 (165 balls, 13 fours, one six) to see his team over the line with four sessions to spare.

Warwickshire’s win cemented their place at the top of Division Two and leaves them well-placed to challenge hard for promotion straight back up.

Northamptonshire’s promotion ambitions have been hammered by a haul of just 15 points from their first four games. They could use some better luck on the injury front, but also need their batsmen, too many of whom perished on the offensive in this match, to give their impressive bowling attack something to work with.

Trailing by nine runs on first innings, Northamptonshire resumed on the third morning on 160 for seven and added only another 27 as Olly Stone completed a five-for against his former team-mates.

Doug Bracewell left a ball too late and feathered Stone to wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose, Chris Wright knocked out Brett Hutton’s off-stump and Rob Keogh (29, 58 balls, three fours) pulled Stone to long leg and fell to a fine catch by Henry Brookes right on the boundary.

Stone finished with five for 49, taking his wicket-haul in the last three championship innings to 15 at 12.4 runs apiece.

Northamptonshire needed to strike early and did through Sanderson whose fifth ball was chipped to square leg by Dominic Sibley. Rhodes and Ian Bell added 36 in 12 overs but then Sanderson struck two big blows. Bell was pinned lbw by an excellent delivery and Trott fell in similar fashion on the stroke of lunch to send Northants into the interval scenting their first victory of the season.

That scent faded as Rhodes and Sam Hain added 50 in 16 overs. Hain latter edged Luke Proctor to Ben Hutton at slip but Matt Lamb (23 not out, 62 balls, three fours) provided Rhodes with staunch support in an unbroken stand of 86 in 22 overs.

Day Two – report

Warwickshire and Northamptonshire are both eyeing up a precious Specsavers County Championship victory after swapping blows for two gripping days at Edgbaston.

Northamptonshire, trailing by nine, on first innings, were 160 for seven – 151 ahead – when bad light ended the second day 14 overs early.

On a pitch starting to offer variable bounce, the visitors will fancy their chances if they can set a target in the region of 209. But Warwickshire will point to the partnerships that have been built when the ball has gone soft and feel they have a real chance of cementing their place at the top of Division Two.

It is a splendid, intense, competitive match with the initiative switching from team to team and, attended by good crowds, a fine advert for county championship cricket.

After resuming on the second morning on 100 for four, Warwickshire advanced to 265 all out. Doug Bracewell quickly removed both overnight batsmen as Matt Lamb fell lbw and Ian Bell (61, 93 balls, five fours) departed furious with himself after steering Brett Hutton to third slip.

Hutton’s third catch of the innings removed Jeetan Patel off Steven Crook who also had Chris Wright caught behind. That left Warwickshire struggling on 169 for eight – still 87 behind – but Tim Ambrose (78, 97 balls, 13 fours) and Henry Brookes (50, 78 balls, eight fours) added 95 in 21 overs.

They took their side in front before Ambrose edged Crook behind. Two balls later, Crook limped off injured but Ben Sanderson wrapped up the innings in the next over when he trapped Brookes lbw.

Bracewell (four for 71) and (Crook four for 51) shared eight of the ten wickets – having scored 173 of their side’s 256 runs in the first innings.

Northamptonshire started their second innings with a brisk opening stand of 39 in 47 balls before Luke Procter edged Brookes to third slip. Ben Duckett (38, 34 balls, six fours) fell lbw attempting to sweep Patel’s first ball and further wickets fell just before and after tea as Alex Wakeley pulled Olly Stone to deep square leg and Richard Levi was superbly held by Jonathan Trott at slip off Chris Wright. Adam Rossington’s perky 23 was terminated by one from Wright that barely got up and struck him in front.

Stone then ensured that the last initiative shift of the day favoured Warwickshire when he removed Josh Cobb (30, 34 balls) caught behind and Steven Crook, bowled, with successive balls.

Day One – report

Top v bottom made for engrossing fare at Edgbaston where Warwickshire closed the opening day of their Specsavers County Championship match on 100 for four in reply to Northamptonshire’s 256.

When the visitors, having chosen to bat, plummeted to 102 for seven, it appeared that Division Two leaders Warwickshire were heading for total command.

But an eighth-wicket stand of 122 in 31 overs between Steven Crook (92, 104 balls, 15 fours) and Doug Bracewell (81, 134 balls, 11 fours, one six) kept their side in the game – and secured their first batting point of the season along the way.

Bracewell then quickly removed both Warwickshire openers and Northamptonshire, without key men Rob Newton (broken finger) and Richard Gleeson (elbow injury), showed their resilience to add the further wickets of Jonathan Trott and Sam Hain to totally even up a day which they had started so wretchedly.

Their morning of woe began with the 13th ball which Ben Duckett nicked behind off Chris Wright. Henry Brookes then delivered almost-unplayable outswingers which clipped Alex Wakeley’s off-stump and induced an edge from Richard Levi to slip.

At 29 for three, a daft run out was the last thing Northamptonshire needed but that’s what came along when Luke Procter attempted a second run to third man and was beaten by Brookes’ accurate throw.

Former Northants bowler Olly Stone struck with his first ball, which Adam Rossington edged behind, before Brookes trapped Rob Keogh lbw to leave the visitors 52 for six.

Crook and Josh Cobb (39, 34 balls) counter-attacked to add 50 in nine overs and, after the latter lifted Stone to point, Crook and Bracewell saw their side to their first batting point of 2018. Crook was eight short of a well-deserved century when he tickled a leg-side delivery from Jeetan Patel to wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose.

A superb catch by Ambrose, off Wright, removed Brett Hutton to leave last pair Bracewell and Ben Sanderson with 21 to find to acquire a second batting point. They managed that before Bracewell lofted Brookes to deep point to leave the 18-year-old with four for 54, having harvested career-best bowling figures for the third  successive innings.

Bracewell then inflicted swift damage with the ball when he had openers Dominic Sibley and Will Rhodes snared in the slips from his fifth and 24th balls respectively. Hutton trapped Trott lbw in his first over and Hain was adjudged lbw, offering no shot, to Crook, leaving Warwickshire leaning heavily on the class of Ian Bell (55 not out, 76 balls, eight fours).

Troughton: "A lot of guys are making important contributions"

The teams reconvene three weeks after their clash at Northampton ended in victory for the Bears by an innings and 48 runs, a result which they followed up with an eight-wicket triumph at home to Derbyshire.

Warwickshire’s impressive start to the season has been driven by a real collective effort from the squad. During the first three games, eight players have scored at least one half-century while four bowlers have together taken 43 wickets at 16.72 apiece.

The guys have played some really good, patient, skilful cricket in the first three games but will have to produce a lot more of it before we can say we have achieved anything.

Jim Troughton

That sort of team-dynamic is crucial to success – and first-team coach Jim Troughton is delighted to see it powering his squad.

“It is not just about individual performances, it’s about working as a team and working as pairs with the ball and with the bat – and that’s what’s happening at the moment,” he said. “A lot of guys are making important contributions.

“When confidence is high, everyone wants to be a part of it and of course winning games always helps. We have recent experience of plenty of long days where it hasn’t gone well so it is great that it has turned round again. Long may it continue, but nobody here is getting ahead of themselves.

“It’s been a good start but there is a long, long way to go in the season. The guys have played some really good, patient, skilful cricket in the first three games but will have to produce a lot more of it before we can say we have achieved anything.”

Next up is the return match against a Northamptonshire side which narrowly missed out on promotion last year and started this season highly-fancied but has struggled so far this time round. Two defeats were followed by the ill-fortune of a seeing a home game with Durham washed out without a ball bowled.

“Northants are one of the teams who, at the beginning of the year, you look at and say you’ll have to play well for four days to beat them,” Troughton said. “They haven’t fired yet and were unlucky to have four days looking at an empty field against Durham, but we have just got to concentrate on what we’re doing. We have some selection headaches but will try to get the balance of the team right again and hopefully get another win.”

At least one team change will be necessary. Ryan Sidebottom is ruled by a side-strain but Olly Stone and Keith Barker bowled well for the 2nd XI this week and are back in contention after their injuries. Sidebottom is expected to be back in contention for the following championship game, at home to Glamorgan starting on June 9.

Warwickshire v Northamptonshire classic from 1995

Wisden suggested it was among the best of all time. Brian Halford and Allan Donald recall it.

By late July 1995 Warwickshire’s defence of their County Championship title was looking strong. They were top of the table but being chased hard by neighbours Northamptonshire who were having an amazing season.

Northants had been bowled out for the two lowest scores of the season, 59 against Surrey and 46 by Essex, yet won both games. They never knew when they were beaten – and arrived at Edgbaston knowing that victory would put them right alongside the leaders. The Bears, meanwhile, knew a win would virtually seal a second successive title.

It had all the makings of a classic – and somehow managed to exceed expectations. At 2.45pm on the fourth day of a match which brimmed with excellence, intensity and plot twists, Northamptonshire won by seven runs. “It was a little bit of a war out there,” commented Lamb.

David Capel pitched one up and I punched him down to the Pavilion End for four and it got down to ten – and then H [Tim Munton] gets the worst lbw decision I’ve ever seen.

Allan Donald

After the first day it was advantage Warwickshire – just. They put Northamptonshire in and bowled them out for 152 with four wickets apiece for Allan Donald and Tim Munton. The Bears reached stumps on 159 for six, thanks almost entirely to Roger Twose’s unbeaten 98.

Twose continued to carry the innings next day before he was last out for 140 out of 224. A lead of 72 appeared decisive but the third innings of the match brought brilliant cricket from both sides. Alan Fordham dug in for a six-hour century and then the visitors’ middle order – Kevin Curran, David Capel and Russell Warren – resisted hard.

In sweltering heat, Donald responded with magnificent fast-bowling for hour after hour. He finished with 39.1-10-95-6 as Northamptonshire were finally bowled out for 346, leaving the Bears a target of 275.
Donald takes up the story.

“It was a top-of-the-table clash and a real scrap,” he said. “Second dig I bowled a long spell to Kevin Curran, a 13-over spell, and I was absolutely determined to just get this one person out because he was standing between us and a win. But he was defying – resilient and tough.

“We gave him everything and Roger Twose was in his ear the whole spell. Eventually I said to Derm ‘just one last over’ – and I bowled Curran a wideish slower ball and he edged it into the cordon. He was absolutely livid!”

Donald was still to feature in the game’s thrilling final throes. Chasing 275, the Bears slumped to 53 for six as Anil Kumble weaved his magic, recovered to 201 for six thanks to Reeve (74) and Neil Smith (75) and then dipped to 228 for nine, leaving last pair Munton (‘H’ to his team-mates) and Donald with 47 to find.

“We chipped away and chipped away and got it down to 20 needed, then 15 needed,” said Donald. “David Capel pitched one up and I punched him down to the Pavilion End for four and it got down to ten – and then H gets the worst lbw decision I’ve ever seen!

“It was a shocker. Capel bowled this little dribbly inswinger and H tried to whip it and missed. I thought it was missing leg-stump by a mile but Ken Palmer raised the finger and I just looked at the sky and there were Northants guys running from everywhere and jumping up and down.

“It was the best four-day game I played in. That, for me, felt like a Test match. We took it right to the death and it was a real challenge between bat and ball. Northants were a strong side and it was a sickening loss but I remember Dermot’s team-talk afterwards. He said: ‘That will hurt but we need to jump straight back on this wagon – and we did.”

They certainly did. Northamptonshire’s win had taken them within two points of the Bears with six games left. Game on.

The Bears’ reaction?

They won the next match, against Hampshire at Southampton, by an innings and 89 runs and the following four, against Nottinghamshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Derbyshire, by ten wickets, before sealing the title at Canterbury with an innings-and-105-run win over Kent.

Now that’s how to bounce back from a defeat…

Opposition Overview: Northants – Specsavers County Championship 2018

Northants Key Stats

Specsavers County Championship: Division 2 (2017 performance – 3rd)

Royal London One-Day Cup: North Group (2017 performance – 8th)

Vitality Blast: North Group (2017 performance – 6th)

Captain: Alex Wakely

Head coach: David Ripley

Overseas Players: Doug Bracewell, Rory Kleinveldt, Seekkuge Prasanna (Vitality Blast)

Ins and outs. In: Brett Hutton (Notts), Luke Procter (Lancashire), Ricardo Vasconcelos (EU passport). Out David Murphy (retired), Azharullah (released)

Man on a Mission

Richard Gleeson – The fast bowler has enjoyed a meteoric rise since being thrust into a first-class debut against the Australians in 2015. Genuinely quick, his wicket-taking ability first caught the eye in T20 but last season saw Gleeson add an impressive return with the red-ball. He was ushered into the England Lions, took a hat-trick for the MCC, and with pace a sought-after asset for any team, the journey from Minor Counties to international cricket in just four years could become a reality.

One to Watch

Brett Hutton – His ability was never questioned by the Nottinghamshire management but their opportunities to pick him in a highly-successful side were limited. Hutton has arrived at Northamptonshire wanting more game time and among a smaller squad, is certain to get greater opportunities. He will add to David Ripley’s options in all forms of the game but his role as a bowling all-rounder looks a valuable asset for the county’s Championship side, where Northants hold promotion ambitions.

Local Hero

Alex Wakely – Has become part of the furniture at Northants where his calm, intelligent leadership is forging a legacy at Wantage Road. In terms of trophies lifted, he is already the most successful captain in the club’s history and he will be eyeing further success with a talented squad who always appear to enjoy playing, in large part because of Wakely’s composed stewardship of the dressing room. His career may lack a great volume of runs, particularly in the County Championship, but he compensates as one of the shrewdest captains in the county game.

Prospects for 2018:

The greatest compliment to the progress Northamptonshire have made since their annus horribilis of 2014 is that they have become a side players want to play for. With a reputation as a close squad who play a positive brand of cricket with a sense of enjoyment, Northants are a bunch admired around the country. But they are serious about success and have compiled a squad set to be competitive across all three formats once again.

Their improvement in the Specsavers County Championship was born in the latter stages of the 2016 season and would have carried them to promotion last season but for a consistent failure to gain batting bonus points. The signing of Luke Procter from Lancashire was made with this in mind – he will provide more solidity in the batting order and act as a much-needed ballast for the strokemakers elsewhere in the order. Given enough runs, Northants have a bowling attack capable of bowling out any line-up, bolstered this year by Brett Hutton joining the club.

Hutton will also improve the Royal London One-Day Cup side, the competition where Northants failed to compete for the knockout stage last year hampered by a bad run of injuries. But a quarter-final appearance in 2016 suggests a run at qualification is possible.

And having made T20 their forte for several seasons, Northants will expect to qualify from the North Group. Seekkuge Prasanna’s legspin – badly-missed last season – will return some much-needed variety to their attack in the middle overs.

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