Northamptonshire survived a tricky chase to beat Sussex by four wickets at Wantage Road, and keep alive their outside hopes of gate-crashing the County Championship Division Two promotion places.
Set 140, after Jorfa Archer and David Wiese’s century stand for the ninth wicket on the third evening, Richard Levi’s unbeaten 54 guided Northants home to a win that in a match they dominated for all but one session.
However, that one session almost proved costly. When Archer and Wiese came together Sussex were still eight adrift having followed on, and five runs later Archer was dropped by Simon Kerrigan at deep square leg.
Had that catch been taken Northants may well have wrapped up an innings victory with Friday’s play not required, but instead Archer and Wiese, the latter batting at 10 despite a first-class best of 208, both plundered half centuries as the home bowlers floundered in the field.
The lead was into three figures by the time Luke Proctor eventually broke the stand at 127 and, although rain that threatened to deny Northants, play resumed after an early lunch. Kerrigan removed Danny Briggs to leave Archer stranded on a career best 81.
Ben Duckett could only make 28 after his first innings 193, an innings that put Northants on track for the rest of the game, but although Ollie Robinson then removed Alex Wakely and Proctor in consecutive overs, Levi and Josh Cobb saw home the chase.
Head coach David Ripley admitted he had feared the game was slipping away, but that one partnership apart, believed it was the best his side have played as they wrapped up a sixth Championship victory of the season.
“I think we’ve played really well in this game, probably our best win of the season – playing a good side playing some good cricket,” he said. “Over four days probably, apart from a poor session after tea, that’s as well as we’ve played all season.
“Sussex fought hard in that second dig, they didn’t roll over.
“I guess not being able to take that catch when they were still behind, we might not have been here today. Having dropped that, we made it interesting at the end but we managed to get over the line.
“I feared; I’m a pessimist by nature and feared the chance was gone. I looked at the forecast, got here and it was raining but once the cloud broke and we had a target in our sights, I was confident we’d get there.”
The results leaves Northants and Sussex both level on points in third and fourth respectively, but with Worcestershire’s victory over Nottinghamshire the pair are 36 points adrift with a game in hand.
After a good start to the campaign, Ripley had challenged his side to still have something to play for going into the finale, but is left to rue defeat a 20 run defeat in a low scoring encounter at New Road back in April.
“We do [rue defeat]. That was our aim. You can’t help, now and again, thinking back to the Worcester away game – one that was so close. You turn that result around and it would be a different story.
“Whoever grabs the top two spots will have really earned them. It’s been a really tough competition this season.
“It’s about being fresh in mind and body when we go down to Cardiff. It’s more about how we turn up and play the cricket than how we prepare.”
The victory this week was set up by two of Northants leading lights. Ben Duckett, with the bat, cracked a quite brilliant 193 – scored at almost a run a ball – a third century in four Championship games. He took his side to 426, the first time they have secured maximum batting points all season.
Rory Kleinveldt then took 5-50; his first five-wicket haul of the campaign, helping bowl Sussex out for 176. When the visitors collapsed again, losing 4-20 to slip to 193-6, the win looked a formality.
Archer and Wiese had other ideas, but despite being delayed by almost 24 hours, the Northants victory song was belting out of the home changing room.
“I think Sussex had the best of the conditions, bowling on the first day when it was very overcast.
“The qualify of our batting got us into a good position, then our seam bowlers to chipped away in the first innings,” Ripley added as he praised Duckett and Kleinveldt.
“That’s [reaching 400] been the area of our game we’ve been looking to improve the most. We’ve got the talent, we’ve got the individuals, it’s that collective desire to grind out those points sometimes.
“Ben had to invest in defence to start but his innings grew, and other people contributed.
“It was a very fine effort from Ben. He had good support, but he’s a very fine player and that’s what he’s capable of.
“He’s been hitting the ball well all year but he hasn’t gone on to get hundreds, so having got there once has fuelled him up and the confidence rises.
“I thought Rory was really good at Trent Bridge and he backed that up when we needed him in this game.
“He’s a bit of an old warrior, Rory. There wasn’t much in the wicket, but he found it and he was certainly a key man in that first innings. Then it was just a case of chipping away.”