Northamptonshire snatched victory by the narrowest of margins, just two runs, in a pink ball thriller against Leicestershire under the lights at Wantage Road.
Hunting down a County Championship record chase of 394, Matt Pillans’ maiden first class fifty looked to be taking the Foxes over the line when Dieter Klein was dropped by keeper Ben Duckett with 7 required, the latest it a catalogue of Northants drops.
But four runs later Rory Kleinveldt found Pillans’ leading edge and the ball somehow looped to point, where ex-Leicestershire man Josh Cobb took a diving catch to spark scenes of jubilation. It was Northants latest thrilling victory this season.
It was harsh on Pillans, though, and Colin Ackermann’s 105 put his side in prime position for a Pillans cameo, the on-loan Surrey man marking his Leicestershire debut with an enterprising innings after a day that had swung backwards and forwards throughout.
Ninety-five runs were still required when Pillans strolled in at number nine, but eight fours and a six later he had a 41-ball half century, and although Ackerman and Clint McKay fell with 37 and 26 required respectively, he guided his side to the brink of a famous victory, only to be denied in dramatic fashion.
It was the latest in a line of thrilling Championship matches for Northants this season. Alex Wakely’s men are the only side in the country yet to draw a fixture, and this two run win came after a pair of penultimate ball successful run chases at Derby and Durham.
“I thought it was slipping away at the end there,” head coach David Ripley admitted. “They were playing sensibly and that lad [Pillans] had hit the ball well and was edging his way to victory.
“At that moment you think “we’ll look back at the drop catch”; should we have batted an extra five or six overs [before declaring on the third evening]?
“But it’s the year of the thriller for Northants; it’s the fourth particularly tight game we’ve had out of seven and it just feels really good.
“I feel our cricket over four days edged it, even though that was a great chase. It made for a real entertaining four day cricket match, which we don’t see much off these days but that was certainly one of them.”
Resuming 44-0, having survived a testing 16 overs with the new ball under the lights on day three, it appeared that Northants were on course for a comfortable victory when openers Paul Horton and Arun Harinath were removed inside the first half hour, Sanderson and Gleeson with the early strikes.
However, Northants’ catching looked set to cost them as a series of chances went down. Mark Cosgrove was the main beneficiary, dropped at slip by Alex Wakely and a caught and bowled that Kleinveldt should have hung onto.
It allowed the Leicestershire skipper to share a partnership of 127 with Ackermann, who was also dropped at slip by Kleinveldt on 42, the stand the backbone of Leicestershire’s chase, going well into the second session before Cosgrove rather gifted his wicket, caught at mid-on.
Ned Eckersley added a further 58 but when he slapped Azharullah to cover and Neil Dexter hit a return catch to Kleinveldt, the task appeared beyond the Foxes, going into the final session still needing 117 with five wickets remaining.
Gleeson’s two in two balls, Lewis Hill caught behind before Rob Sayer completed a pair LBW first up, appeared to have sealed it, but Pillans had other ideas – only to be cruelly stopped in his tracks.
The win sees Northants remain in fourth but only 20 points behind second placed Worcestershire, with a game in hand. They have a crunch clash with Kent next week, the final match before the start of their T20 title defence.
“I believed it from the start,” Ripley continued, “The first meeting we had we were very positive.
“The schedule helps us with a small squad and there was belief we could win cricket matches.
“We finished the season like a train last year, so we didn’t have to build belief.
“There’s some good teams in the division. We wanted to be up there going into the last five games and, all being well, we probably will be.”
Despite the dramatic conclusion under the lights, Ripley’s views were mixed on the pink ball experiment, with no upturn in crowds at Wantage Road, though admittedly the weather didn’t help.
“I think it looked a little bit flat on occasions, on other times it did too much. It reminded me a bit of uncovered pitches.
“I felt a little bit for Leicester on the first day. We batted in quite pleasant conditions, then they had to go out [under the lights] and it hooped all over the place.
“So that doesn’t seem fair to me, but I found it hard to see sometimes and we didn’t really cram them in.
“I’m not sure but I’m sure we’ll give it another go as one round isn’t enough to make a proper judgement, but those that followed this game over four days will think it was brilliant.”