Northamptonshire 256 & 160-7; Warwickshire 265
At the end of the second day at Edgbaston, the match between Warwickshire and Northamptonshire is nicely poised. The visitors may be struggling slightly at 160-7, just 151 ahead, but the variable bounce in the pitch may well cause problems in the fourth innings.
Weather permitting, we can expect a result tomorrow.
Throughout the day, the pace bowlers held sway. Time and again batsmen seemed to be getting settled only for a good delivery or a loose shot to produce a wicket. Only Tim Ambrose with 78, in what has so far been a golden summer, and young Henry Brookes with 50 offered any permanence with the bat in a stand of 95 for the ninth Warwickshire wicket.
At the start of play, the Warwickshire innings was delicately poised at 100-4, still 156 in arrears. It was not long, however, before the balance shifted Northants’ way.
Both Ben Sanderson and Doug Bracewell bowled a testing line and length. Bracewell had his rewards when first Matt Lamb played half forward and was trapped lbw for 5 and then Ian Bell couldn’t decide whether to cut or leave a ball outside off stump and edged to Brett Hutton in the slips.
Bell, though in much better form than last year, is still searching for the big innings that used to come his way almost as a matter of course. He is like an ageing film actor who used to star in blockbusters but now only gets cameo parts.
Bracewell, playing his last game of the season for Northants before Rory Kleinveldt takes the overseas role, continued to probe away on or around off stump mainly on an impeccable length. When he did over-pitch, in-form Tim Ambrose drove him for two sumptuous off-side boundaries.
Jeetan Patel played a few expansive drives before he fell victim to the variable bounce in the pitch. He tried to fend off a lifting delivery from Steven Crook and gave Brett Hutton his second slip catch of the morning. At 145-7, Warwickshire were still 111 behind.
Bracewell bowled throughout the first hour, a fine eight over spell.
Chris Wright supported Ambrose well until he played an airy drive at Steven Crook and was caught by Adam Rossington for four. That brought young Henry Brookes to the crease. He must surely be the best number 10 in the business. Brookes gave Ambrose excellent support as the Warwickshire wicket-keeper completed yet another fifty in what has been a great season so far. His half century came off 62 balls with eight fours.
Warwickshire went into lunch on 203-8, having scored 103 in the two hours for the loss of four wickets. Northants had only bowled 29 overs in that time but, inadequate though that is, the spectators could hardly feel short changed by the quality of the morning’s entertainment.
Ambrose and Brookes continued to tilt the balance of the match in the early afternoon. A back foot cover drive and a square cut by Brookes in the same over off Brett Hutton raced to the boundary, both shots of the highest class.
Brookes reached his fifty off just 72 balls with eight fours. After four wickets and a run-out earlier in the match, this innings merely confirmed that he has all the makings of a star for the future. In the meantime, if he should decide to take a walk across Edgbaston Reservoir this evening, we can assume that he would reach the other side with only slightly dampened feet.
The pair had added 95 when Ambrose fended a rising ball from Crook to Rossington and departed for 78. Sadly, Crook had to leave the field injured before completing his over; but the hard-working Sanderson, who took over, got some reward at last by trapping Brookes lbw for 50. At 265 all out, Warwickshire led by just nine runs. Bracewell with 4-71 and Crook with 4-51 took the bowling honours.
Ben Duckett got the Northants second innings off to a flying start, twice hitting Brookes off his legs for four. Luke Procter was more cautious but he was the first to go, edging Brookes to be caught high up in the slips by Ian Bell.
Duckett went on his merry way, seeking to put a miserable run off form behind him. But when Jeetan Patel came on, he simply couldn’t resist the short leg-side boundary, tried to sweep a straight ball and perished lbw for 38 off just 34 balls.
The match raced on apace. Alex Wakeley and Richard Levi looked to be putting Northants on top. But when they had added 36, Wakeley pulled a short ball from Olly Stone and was caught, at the second attempt, by Matt Lamb on the square leg boundary – 88-3.
After tea, Richard Levi didn’t last long, pushing at a ball from Chris Wright. Jonathan Trott took a beautifully judged catch at first slip. Even though the ball lifted a bit, it was still another loose shot, too many of which have been on display in this match.
Ex-Northamptonshire man Olly Stone bowled a fast, aggressive spell, exploiting the occasional variation in bounce. He troubled both Josh Cobb and Adam Rossington but they survived with (for this match) some unusually sensible batting. It took an ominous shooter from Chris Wright to remove Rossington, palpably lbw for 23.
Josh Cobb briefly looked like the man to play a substantial innings but he played a loose drive to Olly Stone and was caught behind.
Steven Crook came in with a runner and clearly won’t bowl again in the match. His runner had little to do because Crook left a fast straight ball and was bowled off stump for one by a jubilant Stone. At 158-7, Northants were 149 ahead as the light began to close in. It was almost 158-8 as Jonathan Trott put down an edge from Bracewell at first slip.
Two runs later and, as the light closed in, the umpires took the players off to bring procedings to a close. Whilst some club cricketers in the crowd might have bemoaned the fact that they had often played in worse light, they probably hadn’t ever faced Olly Stone with his tail up.
If the match continues to gallop forward tomorrow, we can expect a definite result without the need for a fourth day.