Lancashire’s cricketers were left needing just two wickets to complete an innings victory after some resolute resistance from the Northamptonshire tail had taken the LV= County Championship Division one match at Old Trafford into a fourth morning.
Following on 470 runs behind, Stephen Peters’ batsmen made a slightly better fist of their second innings and were 231 for eight when bad light ended the third day’s play with Lancashire unable to claim the extra half-hour.
Andrew Hall was undefeated on 36 at stumps, having batted 90 minutes in a gutsy display of defiance.
However, given good weather, the Lancashire bowlers will surely not be denied a win which would take them up to seventh in the table on Wednesday morning, albeit probably only for a few hours until the result from Durham’s match is clear.
In the first hour or so of the day’s play Northamptonshire’s last three wickets added 67 to their side’s total.
Steven Crook and Graeme White were both removed with little fuss by Tom Smith but last man Muhammad Azhar Ullah then clubbed six boundaries, five of them off Wayne White, in his 28 runs before edging a pull off Glenn Chapple to Jos Buttler.
Despite this last resistance Lancashire still gained a massive first innings lead of 470, the third highest in the county’s history.
Chapple finished the innings with five for 51, his 39th haul of five or more wickets in first class cricket. Hall was left undefeated, having patiently accumulated 42 off 125 balls.
Northamptonshire’s second attempt with the bat began far more promisingly than their first as Peters and James Middlebrook put on 58 for the first wicket either side of lunch.
However Smith struck two important blows in three overs when he trapped Peters lbw for 41 and induced Richard Levi to give first slip Paul Horton a catch when he had made seven.
Two balls later Middlebrook could only edge a good ball from Kyle Hogg to Buttler and Northants were reduced to 111 for four when Rob Newton could not keep out a straight ball from White which removed his off stump.
Bad light and rain then came to the visitors’ rescue trimming 14 overs of the day’s cricket, but Simon Kerrigan struck with the 10th ball after the resumption when he had Matt Spriegel lbw on the back foot for a determined 29.
The Lancashire slow left-armer struck again eight over later when Ben Duckett gave a bat and pad catch to silly point Alex Davies, and although David Willey struck his second ball from Kerrigan straight for six, he fell to Smith in the next over when he miscued to Chapple at mid on.
Hall and Crook proved that Northamptonshire’s powers of resistance were not entirely eroded with a defiant 50-run partnership for the eighth wicket and the former Lancashire all-rounder Crook was palpably disappointed when he pulled the first ball of White’s spell straight to Usman Khawaja at deep backward square leg.
However, the weather came to the visitors’ aid and, against most expectations, the match will go into a fourth day.
Smith finished with three for 56 for Lancashire.
“We’ve now just got to do a professional job tomorrow,” said Lancashire captain Chapple, speaking on Tuesday.
“Hopefully the weather will hold out and we can get over the line. All the bowlers have put a really good effort in to get us very near to victory with almost a day to spare.”
Northamptonshire skipper Peters is hoping to salvage some pride from the match.
He said: “I thought we showed an improvement second time around. We’re trying to take some pride out of the game and Andrew Hall has now faced 200 balls and hasn’t been removed.
“This morning our objective was to get through today and bring everyone back tomorrow.
“We’ve managed to do that and we have to take small crumbs of comfort where we can at the moment.”