It’s unusual – and very possibly unique – for the same team to score the lowest and highest totals of the season in the County Championship during the same match.
But it happened when Lancashire visited Wantage Road in August 1977. It won’t go down in history as the happiest summer in the club’s history (ending as it did with the departure of four senior players, some of them in decidedly unhappy circumstances) but this was a truly remarkable contest.
Bowling first on a bright but humid morning, Northamptonshire reduced their visitors to 7-6 with new ball pair Sarfraz Nawaz and Alan Hodgson well-nigh unplayable. County supporters wondered for a few glorious minutes whether that embarrassing 12 all out at Gloucester in 1907 was about to be ‘beaten.’
It didn’t quite happen but Lancashire were still skittled for just 33. Roy Virgin’s century then propelled Northamptonshire into a 350-run lead and victory appeared a formality. But the opposition had other ideas and batted for more than a day-and-a-half to reach 501 all out in their second innings and save the game, Frank Hayes leading the way with 135. All rather frustrating.
Better, perhaps, to look back nearly seven decades earlier at one of the most significant wins the County have ever achieved. In 1908 Northamptonshire suffered the humiliation of being dismissed for 27 and 15 by Yorkshire. The next visitors were Lancashire and it’s fair to say optimism was not in the air. And yet the team, skippered by Charlie Pool, gave a terrific account of themselves and began the last day needing 165 to win. At 73-1 it was a doddle; at 122-8 a disaster. But the tail wagged and last pair ‘Bumper’ Wells and Dave Hardy, aided by a crucial dropped catch, carried Northamptonshire home by one wicket. The enthusiasm was such that a local newspaper offered special photographs of the side ‘suitable for framing as a souvenir’ at 2d each.
Lancashire’s visits down the years have brought out the best in some of Northamptonshire’s best. In 1960 Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson claimed his 500th Championship wicket to help set up victory; and in 1966 David Steele, who reckoned he wasn’t being given enough overs by captain Keith Andrew, underlined his point by bagging a career-best 8-29.
More recently, Geoff Cook and Robin Boyd-Moss shared a 344-run stand for the second wicket in 1986 and Northamptonshire were left to score a mere 34 to settle the issue. They did so without losing a wicket, but not before West Indies quick bowler Patrick Patterson generated some fearsome pace in the couple of overs he bowled. Wayne Larkins relished the tussle; Cook, who had done his bit in the first innings, enjoyed the spectacle from the non-striker’s end with a faint grin on his face. Who could blame him?
Last time out…
Steven Crook’s excellence with the bat – 91 and 102 not out – enabled Northamptonshire to draw a high-scoring match at Northampton in 2015, Rob Keogh also helping himself to a second-innings hundred.
NORTHAMPTONSHIRE V LANCASHIRE
WON BY NORTHAMPTONSHIRE: 18
WON BY LANCASHIRE: 53