The County Championship is a wonderful competition and do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Day one between Warwickshire and Northamptonshire proved that, in what was an enthralling day of cricket.
Momentum swung both ways, and at the end of it all it’s about honours even leading into the weekend’s action.
An hour into the match and Warwickshire looked to be heading for their third consecutive victory. Northamptonshire were 52-6 struggling to combat a spell of excellent bowling led by Henry Brookes who was ably supported by Chris Wright and Olly Stone.
Though rather than crumbling under the pressure the Northamptonshire lower order rallied, led by Stephen Crook who scored 92 and added 122 for the eighth wicket with Doug Bracewell who himself scored 81. Their contributions took their side up to 256 all out.
By the time they eventually had a bowl they manged to reduce Warwickshire to 100-4 at the close but crucially Ian Bell still at the wicket on 55.
Heading back to 10:30am when Alex Wakely won the toss he would have hoped for his batsmen to revel in the spring sunshine, it quickly became apparent that this would not happen.
Chris Wright had Ben Duckett caught behind by Ambrose with the score on 13 and, in the very next over, Henry Brookes – who was the pick of the Warwickshire bowlers with 4-54 – got Wakely with an absolutely wonderful delivery. It nipped away from the Northamptonshire captain and flicked the off-stump.
He had another a few overs later. Richard Levi who had looked rather uncomfortable during his short stay at the crease edged to Trott for nought and at 20-3 Warwickshire were in dreamland.
Luke Procter would have a major impact on his own downfall, going for a second run that wasn’t really there and he was ran out after an excellent throw from Brookes for 19. Brookes proving he really was the jack of all trades on this warm Birmingham morning.
Cobb and Rossington were the men tasked to start the rebuilding job for the visitors, however despite some initial resistance, their partnership was soon over.
Rossington edged Olly Stone behind to Ambrose with the former Northamptonshire man’s first ball. The seamer has missed Warwickshire’s last two matches due to injury, but he looked at his best during his first spell, troubling the Northamptonshire batmen with his express pace.
At the other end Brookes was continuing to cause problems. He picked up his third wicket of the morning, trapping Keogh lbw in a delivery that jagged back on the batsmen.
At 52-6, there was a real possibility that Northants wouldn’t make it to lunch. But to their credit through Josh Cobb and Steven Crook they fought back.
The pair added fifty in just nine overs in a highly entertaining partnership. Their partnership didn’t go beyond fifty though, as Chris Wright returned to the attack and had Cobb caught at point for 29, to leave the score on 102-7. Despite the good fightback from the batsmen Warwickshire were still on top and would have been pleased with the score on 118-7 at the lunch break.
Northants emerged for the afternoon session with their prospects depending on Steven Crook. He moved to his fifty flicking Brookes off his pads for four, in what had been a fabulous and determined effort.
He was supported well for much of the afternoon session by Doug Bracewell, both of whom frustrated the Warwickshire attack.
They were helped by some poor bowling from Warwickshire. Captain Jeetan Patel was uncharacteristically poor as Crook hit him for a couple of boundaries in the 40th over of the match.
Bracewell also benefited from Patel’s inconsistency, going to fifty with back to back boundaries off the bowler. The New Zealander was watchful throughout his innings but punished the poor ball during his time at the crease.
Just as Crook was approaching his sixth first class hundred, he nicked one down the leg side and was caught by Ambrose off Patel and his 104 ball stay at the crease was over for 92.
He and Bracewell had put on 122 and had at least given their side a score of respectability.
New man Brett Hutton edged a streaky four down to third man, but he was gone not long after edging Wright behind to Ambrose who took a fabulous one handed diving catch.
The visitors were 229-9 but did manage to add a second batting bonus point. Bracewell continued his fabulous knock hitting the first six of the match, a lofted straight drive and his partner Sanderson bought up the 250 with delicious flick through mid-wicket.
The innings would not last must longer, with Bracewell holing out to Hain in the deep to give Brookes his fourth wicket.
At the start of the day, Northamptonshire would have wanted far more than 256 but from 52-6 they had given themselves a chance in a game that was looking over for them only an hour into the match.
They would still need early wickets though, and that’s exactly what they got. Bracewell, who bowled a dangerous opening spell having Sibley caught for nought with not a run on the board.
Ian Bell joined Will Rhodes, and despite taking eleven balls to get off the mark, two trademark Bell drives showed he was at his fluent best.
Rhodes looked to be breaking the shackles with a cover drive off Bracewell, but next ball he was gone to the same bowler, caught by Levi, via a juggling act.
Trott joined his fellow former England international and the two batted nicely for eight overs. Neither were particularly expansive but that was exactly what the situation required with the floodlights on.
However Trott was soon out, lbw to Hutton in the bowlers first over and with 19 still left in the day there was ample opportunity for the Northamptonshire bowlers to make further inroads.
Bell was in an obstinate mood though, determined not to give his up wicket. His first fifty balls only yielded 21 runs but with Sam Hain they helped blunt an attack which bowled nicely in conditions that clearly favoured the bowlers.
As the day drew to a climax Bell even managed to find some fluency, hitting Brett Hutton for back-to-back boundaries. Hain remained the more watchful of the two but despite lasting 28 balls he left one ball too many and was trapped lbw by Crook for six.
Bell ploughed on, moving to fifty with just eight overs left in the day and he and his partner Lamb lasted until the players came off for bad light with six overs remaining, Warwickshire 100-4, and the game anybody’s.