Northamptonshire launched themselves into the promotion places in Division Two of the Specsavers County Championship with a thumping 10 wicket win over Worcestershire at Wantage Road.
Needing to take another six wickets in Worcestershire’s second innings on day three, Northants bowled them out for 223 just after lunch and it left only 34 for victory. Rob Newton and Ben Curran saw off the target in only 4.3 overs to complete a 22-point victory, lifting them above Glamorgan and into the top three.
It was a match Northants completely dominated and with Leicestershire, Durham and Gloucestershire now to play in September, promotion is in their own hands.
Worcestershire lost for a sixth time this season with a performance devoid of confidence. They took only two points and any lingering hopes of re-entering the promotion race have now ended. But with matches against Glamorgan, Gloucestershire and Sussex remaining could still have a big say in the promotion race.
Their captain Joe Leach spoke on the second evening of trying to battle back after two poor days and he and Moeen Ali enjoyed a positive opening 40 minutes of play as Worcestershire resumed 42 for 4 trailing by 148.
But Leach was the first wicket to fall, sweeping at Rob Keogh’s off-spin and being given out lbw for 27, and from there the visitors slid away and needed Riki Wessels’ counterattacking 84 not out to avoid an innings defeat.
Moeen had a golden chance to regain some form on a pitch where batting looked straightforward the previous afternoon. Having looked horribly out of touch in the first innings, making a very scratchy 42, he was far more assured second time around.
He drove Brett Hutton pleasantly through cover in the opening over of the day, defended with confidence and advanced down the wicket to lift Dwaine Pretorius over mid-off for six.
But the ball following Leach’s dismissal was flicked down the leg side by Ben Cox to fine leg and Moeen charged back for a third run with Hutton having chased to the boundary. The throw was flat and right over the bails and Moeen was comfortably short of his ground and gone for 40 as Peter Such, the ECB’s lead spin-bowling coach, looked on.
Moeen was later handed the new ball and sent down two long-hops and a moon ball over Newton’s head, completing a very disappointing return to the County Championship.
Moeen’s run out was the second wicket of a slide from 95 for 4 to 112 for 7 as Cox had his middle stump ripped out by a nip-backer from Petorius.
But Wessels always has the bit between his teeth when playing against his old county and played a typically-positive innings to pass fifty in 56 deliveries with six boundaries – the milestone reached via four overthrows taking quick single – to get Worcestershire past lunch.
After the break he flicked Blessing Muzarabani for six over square leg but was left stranded on 84 not out – his third score over 50 in the Championship this season.
He shared 54 with Ed Barnard who again showed a pleasant technique to reach 18 before Muzarabani, who replaced Nathan Buck as a concussion substitute on day two, angled a ball in and trapped Barnard lbw on the crease. Muzarabani also cleaned up Wayne Parnell for 7 before last man Josh Tongue – whose side strain will rule him out of the rest of the season – was caught at slip via an inside edge off Keogh.
The chase was given short shrift. Newton drove Moeen’s first ball for four through cover before pulling a long hop through midwicket for another boundary. A classic extra-cover drive then sped away from Leach before Curran ran a ball past third slip to complete a fine victory.
David Ripley said:
“Every morning we said how well we’ve played and picked out individuals who have been particularly strong and over three days we’ve been the better side and won very very well.
“There was a very important partnership between Alex Wakely and Dwaine Pretorius that set us up. Historically we’ve found it difficult to get in when batting has been at it’s easiest but here we did that and those two played exceptionally well.
“Ben Sanderson’s highly skilled new ball spell set us on the way and on the final morning the over with two wickets changed the belief of both sides and I always thought we’d win from there.
“We’ve got a good haul of points and are wedged in up at the top of the league. I’ve thought we’ve played some good cricket all season and now getting over the line a few times has got us to where we want to be with three games to go.”
Worcestershire 186 (Hutton 6/57, Buck 2/31) & 223 (Sanderson 4/33, Muzarabani 2/47)
Northamptonshire 376 (Pretorius 111, Wakely 102) & 36/0 (Curran 17*, Newton 17*)