Although Northamptonshire have been playing Leicestershire in the County Championship since 1905, visits to Grace Road only date back to the first season after the Second World War. Before that, the Foxes staged their home fixtures in Leicester at the old Aylestone Road ground – now home of the Leicester Electricity Sports CC.
It didn’t take Dennis Brookes long to develop an affinity for the new venue. In 1946 he scored an unbeaten century (out of 201-8 declared) in a rain-ruined contest, ‘Wisden’ recording that he was ‘untroubled by any of the bowling.’ A year later Brookes doubled up, stroking a masterly 210 to set up a six-wicket victory – the County’s two Clarkes, Bob and Bertie, seamer and leg-spinner, from Finedon and Barbados respectively, sharing nine wickets in the first innings.
Not surprisingly perhaps, tussles between the East Midlands neighbours could be a trifle tetchy at times. In 1972, David Steele and Mushtaq Mohammad helped themselves to hundreds but the weather intervened and Leicestershire felt Jim Watts delayed his second-innings declaration rather too long. Home skipper Ray Illingworth made his views known by allowing wicketkeeper Roger Tolchard to bowl in his pads. He got Bishan Bedi out, too, before the match fizzled out.
The crabbiness persisted. Four years later, with both sides chasing Middlesex for the Championship title, Illingworth declared 180 runs behind in another game spoiled by rain. His idea was to deny Northamptonshire any bowling bonus points. Mushtaq responded by enforcing the follow-on and the hosts tottered briefly at 5-3 on a turning pitch before Leicestershire batted out time. ‘Illy’ had the last laugh 12 months on. His team was reeling at 45-9 against Sarfraz Nawaz and Jim Griffiths in full flow, only for the former England captain and fellow veteran Ken Higgs to dig in and share an extraordinary last-wicket stand worth 228! Another draw resulted.
Altogether less cagey was the 1980 match which Leicestershire – set 382 to win by Geoff Cook – won by three wickets with nine balls to spare. Wayne Larkins and Richard Williams shared a second-wicket stand worth 322 while future Northamptonshire ‘convert’ Nick Cook was in at the end to see the Foxes home. More recently, the County have enjoyed some better times at Grace Road, not least in 2011 when Jack Brooks and David Lucas skittled the home side for just 48. Two seasons later, Kyle Coetzer’s double-century powered us to a formidable 567-7 declared, only for rain to kill off any victory hopes.
On the downside, please draw a veil over 1998 – when Leicestershire chased down 204 to win in just 19.1 overs, Chris Lewis blasting 71 not out from 33 balls.
LAST TIME OUT…
Northamptonshire signed off their 2017 Championship campaign with a visit to Grace Road and reduced Leicestershire to 26-7 on the first morning, thanks to Ben Sanderson and Richard Gleeson. They rallied to 128 all out but Alex Wakely’s side triumphed by six wickets with Luke Procter – opening the innings – contributing 82 and 94.
NORTHAMPTONSHIRE V LEICESTERSHIRE
WON BY NORTHAMPTONSHIRE: 44
WON BY LEICESTERSHIRE: 50