A shortened third day at Wantage Road has still left the promotion battle between Northants and Nottinghamshire on a knife edge
Nottinghamshire 151 (Kleinveldt 9-65) and 107 for 3 need a further 207 runs to beat Northants 194 and 270 (Levi 115, Newton 53, Wood 4-31)
Although there was only 25.3 overs’ play at Wantage Road on the third day of this game the cricket never wanted for intensity or purpose. Needing a further 281 runs to beat Northamptonshire and thereby settle the promotion issues in Division Two, Nottinghamshire had reduced that requirement to 207 when the umpires brought the players off for bad light just before lunch. Rain set in during the afternoon.
Yet in making their modest progress the visitors had lost only their nightwatchman, Luke Wood, who for the second time in the match had fulfilled his primary duty on the evening of one day and then completed useful innings of 44 on the morning of the next. In addition Wood has taken four wickets in each innings, thus making this contest something of a numerophile’s delight in addition to its weightier fascinations.
Wood is developing into a substantial cricketer. His left-arm swing bowling on the first morning was impressive and he is far more than a No9 batsman capable of facing the artillery in the last few overs of a day. And Nottinghamshire will need their top order to discharge their responsibilities as competently as Wood has done if they are going to face down a Northants attack strengthened by the availability of Richard Gleeson, who has recovered from the back spasm which prevented him bowling on the first two days.
However, if Northants bowl as they did for the first 45 minutes of this morning’s cricket, Nottinghamshire’s batsmen should enjoy themselves. Rory Kleinveldt’s radar was awry in this period and runs came easily, 18 of them in the first three overs of play. On the other hand, if the Northants’ attack is as penetrative as it was in the next hour we are in for a splendid scrap. Some taste of the battle that might lie ahead was offered by Gleeson and Ben Sanderson, both of whom beat the groping bat regularly yet had only the wicket of Wood to show for their efforts. That fell when the nightwatchman attempted to pull Gleeson but only hoisted a skier which Alex Wakely ran back from mid-off to catch. The same fielder in the same position had dropped a low chance off the bowling off Kleinveldt when Wood had made 20.
While Wood was scoring 31 runs on the third morning, Jake Libby set about anchoring the innings in a manner befitting someone who will bat on all four days of this match. Libby took his score from 6 to 30 in 100 minutes’ stout resistance and his defensive technique was admirable. Like Cheteshwar Pujara, he was tested to the uttermost by Gleeson, one or two of whose deliveries from the Pavilion End really did seem like fast leg-breaks, the sort that Len Hutton, on his best form, might have nicked. Sometimes, playing and missing is the best you can do, and if that is true for Pujara, it will probably satisfy the other Nottinghamshire batsmen as well. They might use Wood’s obstinacy as an example of what will be required.
“It’s always nice to get out there and have a bat,” said the nightwatchman. “I pride myself on my batting so to get out there as a nightwatchman and do my job then get some runs in the mornings has been nice. We got a bit of momentum going today and they got a little bit more deflated than they had been previously in the game. We felt we were getting on top and if the weather’s good on the last day that can only help us really. We would have liked to have been chasing fewer runs but we feel this total is gettable. We have the players who can chase this total down.”
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications