Northamptonshire wrested control of the LV= County Cricket Championship Division Two clash with Lancashire after an entertaining third day at Old Trafford which saw 15 wickets fall in the Manchester heat.
The home side now face an uphill struggle to save a game which gradually ebbed away from them as both bowlers and fielders tired on a long and stifling afternoon for the league leaders.
By the close, the Red Rose still required 395 runs for an unlikely victory having been set 414 runs to win - a fanciful target which would be their record fourth innings total, beating the 404 for five they made in 1910 to beat Hampshire at Southampton.
Much of the damage was done in a dreadful morning session for the hosts as their hopes of at least matching Northamptonshire’s impressive first innings total of 438 were dashed after the visitors took the new ball.
Inroads were quickly made as first James Faulkner (seven) edged Azharullah to second slip before skipper Steven Croft chopped a delivery from Steven Crook onto his stumps for 25.
Crook, a former Lancashire player, was to enjoy a triumphant return to his old stomping ground, as Croft became the first of his three victims in a spell which saw both Jordan Clark (18) and Tom Bailey (seven) also play on to their wickets.
When Simon Kerrigan skied an attempted hook shot off Azharullah to Josh Cobb for two, Lancashire had lost their last six wickets for 51 runs and conceded a first innings lead of 130 to their newly upbeat opponents.
An early breakthrough for the Red Rose added to the drama of the opening session as Kyle Coetzer mistimed a pull behind to Alex Davies for five to leave Northants 31 for one at the break with a lead of 161.
Wickets fell regularly throughout a middle session dominated by 20-year-old Ben Duckett who appeared to be playing a different game from his fellow batsmen as he moved towards his second century of the match.
At the other end, Lancashire’s bowlers enjoyed some success for their toil in the heat with Simon Kerrigan bowling skipper Alex Wakely for nine, before Australian James Faulkner found himself on a hat-trick for the second time in the game after dismissing Rob Keogh (20) and Richard Levi (zero), both lbw, in successive deliveries.
When Adam Rossington was unlucky to be given out caught at short leg by Steven Croft off the bowling of Aaron Lilley, Lancashire could sniff a slight chance at 110 for five with the lead still under 250.
But Duckett soon snuffed out any hope of a Lancashire recovery as he moved to 88, before inexplicably hitting Lilley straight to Ashwell Prince at mid-on when a century seemed inevitable.
After tea, 113 more runs were added as some lusty blows from Josh Cobb (52 not out), Crook (37) and Olly Stone (35) combined with some weary fielding from Lancashire allowed Northants to declare on 283 for nine before the hosts negotiated a tricky period of six overs to finish on 19 without loss.
Lancashire captain Croft was left frustrated.
“It was a disappointing day from our point of view,” Croft said.
“We didn’t get any partnerships going with the bat and we wanted to get nearer to their total or even bat past. There was some poor shot selection and we found it tough with the bat.
“We’ve put some great partnerships together down the order this season and losing six for 50, we’re a lot better than that.
“We have to see tomorrow as a fresh day. It’s a tough task ahead if we are to chase the runs down. It’s there for us to do that and it’s there for us to save the game.”