Warwickshire and Northamptonshire are both eyeing up a precious Specsavers County Championship victory after swapping blows for two gripping days at Edgbaston.
Northamptonshire, trailing by nine, on first innings, were 160 for seven – 151 ahead – when bad light ended the second day 14 overs early.
On a pitch starting to offer variable bounce, the visitors will fancy their chances if they can set a target in the region of 209. But Warwickshire will point to the partnerships that have been built when the ball has gone soft and feel they have a real chance of cementing their place at the top of Division Two.
It is a splendid, intense, competitive match with the initiative switching from team to team and, attended by good crowds, a fine advert for county championship cricket.
After resuming on the second morning on 100 for four, Warwickshire advanced to 265 all out. Doug Bracewell quickly removed both overnight batsmen as Matt Lamb fell lbw and Ian Bell (61, 93 balls, five fours) departed furious with himself after steering Brett Hutton to third slip.
Hutton’s third catch of the innings removed Jeetan Patel off Steven Crook who also had Chris Wright caught behind. That left Warwickshire struggling on 169 for eight – still 87 behind – but Tim Ambrose (78, 97 balls, 13 fours) and Henry Brookes (50, 78 balls, eight fours) added 95 in 21 overs.
They took their side in front before Ambrose edged Crook behind. Two balls later, Crook limped off injured but Ben Sanderson wrapped up the innings in the next over when he trapped Brookes lbw.
Bracewell (four for 71) and (Crook four for 51) shared eight of the ten wickets – having scored 173 of their side’s 256 runs in the first innings.
Northamptonshire started their second innings with a brisk opening stand of 39 in 47 balls before Luke Procter edged Brookes to third slip. Ben Duckett (38, 34 balls, six fours) fell lbw attempting to sweep Patel’s first ball and further wickets fell just before and after tea as Alex Wakeley pulled Olly Stone to deep square leg and Richard Levi was superbly held by Jonathan Trott at slip off Chris Wright. Adam Rossington’s perky 23 was terminated by one from Wright that barely got up and struck him in front.
Stone then ensured that the last initiative shift of the day favoured Warwickshire when he removed Josh Cobb (30, 34 balls) caught behind and Steven Crook, bowled, with successive balls.
Warwickshire wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose said:
“It’s pretty even after two days and a really exciting match. It’s been good to play in and good to watch as both teams have been on top for spells and then the other has fought back.
“There has been some assistance for the bowlers and the ball has swung a bit. In the first innings it did a bit with the new ball and as the match has progresses it has carried on doing it throughout the innings, but there is also pressure on the bowlers because they know if they don’t put it in the right areas they will be punished.
“I was pleased to get some runs and am happy with the way I’m hitting it this season, though I am fortunate to be batting down at seven. At this stage of the season I really feel for opening batsmen because it is a lot harder up there.”
Northamptonshire captain Alex Wakeley said:
“At one stage I thought we were looking at a lead of 50 but Tim Ambrose batted very well and now it is set up for an interesting game.
“If you want to dominate games you need one of your top three to be scoring hundreds and that hasn’t been happening for us. That has meant we have had to scrap and that really sums up this match – a scrap.
“If we can get to around 200 in front it will be interesting. We know we are not playing our best cricket at the moment but it would be great to go into the one-dayers on the back of a win. We just need something special to turn our season round and tomorrow could be the day.”