Northants 202 (Proctor 82, Raine 5-54) and 17 for 0 need a further 180 to beat Leicestershire 128 and 270 (Cosgrove 80, Kerrigan 4-62)
It was promotion crunch time in Division Two, but in The Meet café and bar, which has fed and watered Leicestershire supporters for a lifetime, there was little sign of rising tension. Every Northants fielder must have been desperate for news from Hove, while their promotion rivals Nottinghamshire were staging a recovery, but in The Meet nobody was noticeably checking scores on their mobile phone. Assuming they had remembered to bring one.
Elsewhere in the cricketing ether, ramifications were discussed on cricket blogs, or bursts of excitement were released onto Twitter. But the inhabitants of The Meet have seen promotion seasons come and go and the world has not noticeably been any better or worse for it. Indeed, the days when promotion and relegation did not exist seem like only yesterday. In Leicestershire, who had some fine years in the one-divisional structure a generation ago, such an egalitarian set-up is doubtless viewed fondly.
The Meet has seen it all too. This essentially ugly structure (albeit skilfully tarted up under the latest management) has twice been transported from former Leicestershire grounds in the days when every penny counted.
Still, looking sagely into the mid-distance did have its attractions for the denizens of The Meet. Mark Cosgrove was in the later stages of a delightful 80 from 139 balls, enough for Leicestershire to reach 270 and set Northants 197 for victory. Leicestershire are seeking their first win, but Northants must buckle down to the run chase in the hope of a calamitous final day for Nottinghamshire. There is reason to see out the season on the final day.
Cosgrove, the Australian left-hander, is one of the unappreciated delights of the county circuit. He has amassed 1,000 first-class runs in each of the last three seasons, a persistent consolation during difficult times. When he is not bullying the ball from his presence with powerful pulls or freeing his arms for fulsome drives, he also possesses a strikingly delicate touch. Northants might have adopted the nickname of “The Chubsters”, but Cosgrove is “King Chubster”, a player of heft and quality. A player of international pedigree.
But even with Cosgrove on strike, it was tempting to stride into the middle of The Meet and exclaim: “But don’t you know what’s happening at Hove?” Leicestershire putting up batting resistance against Northants on the other side of the window was only half the story. On the south coast, Harry Gurney, who made his first-class debut for Leicestershire 10 years ago – and against Northants to boot, there’s a conversation topic – before Notts tempted him 30 miles up the A46, was playing the innings of his life.
At the precise second that Gurney, on his way to the heady heights of 42 not out, saved the follow-on and probably won Notts promotion in the process, a spectator rose from her seat, but only to join a small queue for a flapjack and cup of tea from the Friends of Grace Road stall. (“Sorry, we’ve had a run on the cakes, but I suppose that’s better than a run on the pound,” said the volunteer who had presumably recently retired from an economic think tank).
Leicestershire’s second innings had failure as well as success. Michael Carberry has England caps behind him, but two more failures in this match have done little to justify the award of a disturbingly lavish two-year contract wich seems out of kilter with Leicestershire’s more considered development plans. Carberry must gather his thoughts over the winter and prove his worth.
The Northamptonshire seam attack, shorn of the injured Rory Kleinveldt, lacked a third seamer and Cosgrove took his chance to ease into his full repertoire. As Leicestershire’s innings progressed, Northants became increasingly reliant on the spin of Rob Keogh and Simon Kerrigan. Kerrigan, the left-arm spinner on loan from Lancashire, could delight in four wickets, two of them stumped, including Aadil Ali, who made a neat 37 and was then drawn into a charge and miss. He deserves regular cricket.
Northants are favourites on the final day, but this game is not yet settled. Win or lose a side that survived early-season injuries – they could only summon 15 players for their pre-season photo call – they have turned in a creditable season. Big ambitions from little resources. Admirable stuff.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
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