Northamptonshire completed a ninth win of the Championship season as they saw off Leicestershire by six wickets at Grace Road, but it wouldn’t be enough as Nottinghamshire took the second promotion spot alongside Worcestshire.
Notts needed 12 points from their game at Hove and a fairytail hundred from Chris Read, along with Billy Root’s ton, dug them out of trouble early in the week, with a draw inevitable on the final day.
It means that Northants’ fourth successive win to end the season proved in vain. Luke Proctor lead the way with 94 as they made relativity short work of the 197 needed, thus condemning hosts Leicestershire to the wooden spoon after a winless season.
Northants are only the fifth side in either division of the County Championship to win nine games in the last decade and, since the split to two divisions, no side had previously won nine or more games and finished outside of the top two.
After losing to Notts a month ago, they sat 72 points behind, but a stirring end to the campaign saw them beat Sussex, Glamorgan, and then Notts last week to take the battle to the final round. But it wasn’t to be.
As Notts slumped to 65-5, still 500 runs behind on the second day, after Northants had dismissed Leicestershire, who were 26-7, for 128, it appeared that the swing required would happen. Read and Root’s double century stand, however, put Notts on the path to recovery.
Despite being aware that promotion was slipping away, it didn’t prevent Northants closing out victory. Procter and captain Alex Wakely added a century stand for the second wicket and, although both departed, Josh Cobb and Rob Keogh saw them over the line.
Head Coach David Ripley admitted winning nine games yet missing out was tough to take, but remained proud of his players.
“It’s frustrating. I’m a bit raw but very proud of the players,” he said. “We’ve played so well you can’t be critical of the players, they’ve been magnificent.
“When Notts are 80-5 and we’re 160-2 on Day Two the unlikely events could unfold in our favor. But we turn up today, we were determined to get that ninth win, finish the job and continue to play well – but we had it at the back of our minds “we’re not going up”.”
“It’s frustrating because we’ve almost played our cricket like a Division One team. We’ve played well and it’s just not enough; nine wins, it’s disappointing to take.
“We think we’re a good side and we’ve been fairly consistent, fifth and fourth [in last two years] so we’re in the right half of the division, but being the team in the top two spots isn’t easy. You can play good cricket and not make it, as this year has proved.”
A club that has been branded white ball specialists in recent years, with two T20 titles in four years, Ripley said they had been determined to improve their Championship fortunes, and compete, as they look to atone for their previous attempt in the top flight, that ended winless in 2014.
“It was a real focus at the start: that we would compete in the Championship. As a group, some of our criticism we’ve had was about not taking it seriously. We wanted to get stuck in and show our bread and butter supporters, who tend to watch the Championship that we really wanted it.
“We want another stab at Division One. I would love that in my coaching time. I feel we didn’t do ourselves justice last time so it’s disappointing to get that close and we have to hang on for another year.”
The final margin was five points, the exact amount that Northants were deduced for a slow over rate in the defeat at Trent Bridge a month ago, ultimately proving costly as without that penalty, Northants would have pipped Notts on games won.
Ripley’s men will also rue a lack of batting points throughout the campaign, only claiming 29 in stark contrast to the 45 and 44 picked up by Worcestershire and Notts respectively, all too frequent batting collapses from strong starts proving costly, only reaching 400 and maximum points once.
The coach has no complaints about the Trent Bridge deduction, and admitted his batsman need to find the extra grit to build those totals and the points that come with them.
“It comes back unfortunately to the five points we lost in Nottingham, which we deserved to lose,” he admitted. “We were off the pace but it was quite unique circumstances. Alex was off the field, we had someone wacking us all over the park, it’s just a shame that poor bit of play has blemished a fantastic season from the lads.
“We are a club that’s missed out by a point in the past; [bonus] points are important, if you get a sniff of them you have to nail those batting points. We maybe need, subconsciously, a bit of extra desire from the guy, partnerships to keep growing: turn those fifties into hundreds.
“We have the talent and, if we can add to that batting group, I’m confident we’ll find the runs we need to make a better assault on it next time.”