Underrated, underfunded and rarely underfed, Northants are contesting the Division Two promotion race to the last and embarrassing favourites Notts in the process
Nottinghamshire 151 (Kleinveldt 9-65) and 33 for 2 need a further 281 runs to beat Northants 194 and 270 (Levi 115, Newton 53, Wood 4-31)
Underfunded, underrated but rarely underfed, Northamptonshire’s cricketers love to thumb their noses at the power-houses of English cricket. Overlooked, overshadowed but seldom overpaid, they delight in making the established hierarchy look dull and daft. Welcome to Wantageworld.
Rarely have these insubordinate traits been more obvious than on an astonishing second day of this game when Rory Kleinveldt‘s career-best 9 for 65 and a mighty century by Richard Levi gave their side a good chance of victory in a game which may yet decide which counties are promoted to the First Division. Northamptonshire, of course, hope the match will do no such thing. Alex Wakely and his players need to win this game to ensure they are still in the hunt at Grace Road next week.
They prosecuted their cause in the most gloriously uninhibited fashion on a day when 374 runs were scored, 16 wickets fell and the cricket became progressively more deranged. For in Wantageworld problems provoke attack and dismissals only engender further aggression from batsmen like Levi, Mjolnir in his hand. Having obtained a first-innings lead of 43 on a wicket where batting had looked difficult, Northants smacked 270 in 52.2 overs on one of the season’s most entertaining days. And all this was achieved without any material help from either Alex Wakely or Ben Duckett, both of whom were injured when fielding in the morning session.
Duckett’s broken finger prevented him batting at all while Wakely, who had taken a blow to the face, came in at No8, just in time to see his side lose their last four wickets for ten runs. Three of those wickets were taken by Wood who has taken eight wickets in the match and done the nightwatchman duties twice in 24 hours. That of Kleinveldt was claimed by perhaps the first relay catch in first-class cricket, a diving Hutton lobbing the ball back to the substitute fielder, Matt Milnes.
Before that collapse – “this is so Northants” said a spectator – Levi had played one of the finest attacking innings of summer, reaching his century in 92 balls and adding four huge sixes to 14 fours. There was no slogging; this was hitting at its finest. As soon as the ball was pitched up, Levi trusted his eye and it did not betray him. He added 147 for the second wicket with Rob Newton, who had passed fifty 11 times this season but made only one century. Steven Mullaney was hit for four successive boundaries to different corners of the ground; Samit Patel was hoisted for two sixes, the second of them bringing up Levi’s half-century in 40 balls.
The full madness of Levi’s 104-ball 115 and the subsequent assault on Chris Read’s dazed bowlers by Kleinveldt, who added a mere 48 off 41 balls, can only be fully appreciated when one realises that 20 wickets had fallen for 345 runs in the first two innings of the game. Levi’s success was to attack the bowlers’ presumptions of dominance and to shred them, something he did with marvellous violence until losing his off stump to Brett Hutton. Before long, though, Northants’ lead was over 300 and the whole architecture of the game had changed. Chris Read’s batsmen may still secure the win they require but they face a far tougher task than they envisaged and it will be a win worthy of champions if they manage it.
Some suggestion as to how difficult tomorrow’s cricket may be for Nottinghamshire was offered in the final hour of the day when Mullaney lost his off stump when well beaten off the seam by Kleinveldt and the same bowler had Billy Root caught by Rob Keogh at second slip, apparently off the glove, when attempting a pull.
The loss of those wickets gave Kleinveldt a career-best 11-wicket return in the match and he has considerable power to add. They also took one back to the distant morning session when Root, had been caught at slip by Duckett off the second ball of the day and Tom Moores leg before when playing vapidly across the line of a straight one in the third over. Both those wickets were taken by Kleinveldt, who, so the Nottinghamshire players later attested, “had the ball on a string”.
That quality was made even more evident in the second hour of the morning’s play when Kleinveldt added the wickets of Read, Hutton and Wood to his bag and finished with a career-best 9 for 65, beating the 8 for 47 he took for Cape Cobras against Warriors at Stellenbosch 11 years ago. Well as he bowled, one would not be astonished to hear that Chris Read did not join in the applause which greeted the South African from all sides of Wantage Road on his return to the pavilion. As so often, Read’s was the vital wicket and he was not chuffed to be given out caught at the wicket by David Murphy. Indeed, he departed waving his arms and muttering darkly against the injustices of the green world he loves but will soon leave.
Kleinveldt became the first of two Northamptonshire players to receive a standing ovation on this glorious day and his efforts probably enlivened the luncheon party gathered in the Ken Turner Stand. The women stylish and immaculate; the men blazered, scarved and Playfaired; a nine-wicket haul to speed the Beaujolais. It was a fine lunchtime for the Clarins and chinos brigade. White-spotted red handkerchiefs peeked discreetly from top pockets and the gathering boasted the shy smiles of the gently affluent.
And all this took place in a place as strange as Wantageworld and on a day when Nottinghamshire supporters reflected on the signing of Paul Coughlin and wondered if the rumours about the imminent arrival of Keaton Jennings were true. It made one wonder for a gorgeous moment whether the Durham pair had ever considered joining Northamptonshire. They might not have made as much money but one suspects they would have had more fun. But how many of us are so blessed that we find the back of the wardrobe?
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications