VIEW FROM THE BLUES: Flat track, unpredictable weather and poor umpiring lead to stalemate

The Northants players celebrate finally dismissing Ashwell Prince in the draw against Lancashire
The Northants players celebrate finally dismissing Ashwell Prince in the draw against Lancashire

This time last year. Jimmy Anderson gave us a brilliant demonstration of fast accurate seam bowling with 10 wickets in the match to deliver Lancashire a narrow victory at Wantage Road.

Without him playing for the visitors, Northants would have won that game.

It was a very different Lancashire attack that turned out for the championship match this week, with England’s finest fast bowler recovering from breaking Ian Botham’s test wicket taking record, it was only Peter Siddle to worry about - and he didn’t prove a problem.

The Northants groundsmen seem to have been instructed to prepare flatter pitches to deter defeats this season, and so blunted that Lancashire attack some more.

The home team, boosted by that cracking victory at Leicester, were ready to set about restoring pride against the second favorites in the division after five straight defeats.

But the umpires were not in the mood to get play on on Sunday, and nothing annoys spectators more than when we sit there for hours in warm sunshine and a drying wind and play is delayed.

A couple of innocuous puddles on the boundary were deemed unsafe, yet the bad light at the end of the day that cost Northants two wickets when we were taking control of the game was not deemed unsafe? Go figure.

A rejuvenated Stephen Peters had scored a crisp 56 to set up the innings and Alex Wakely was well set on 59, but the light faded and so did Northants to be 198 for six at the close.

A cracking day’s cricket on day two in front of a decent Bank Holiday crowd saw Adam Rossington continue to batter some meaty boundaries the way David Sales used to do, and his 57 was very enjoyable.

With David Willey rested for England, it was replacement Steven Crook who stole the day, champing at the bit for some first team cricket with a rapid point-making 91 from just 88 balls. he hit a thrilling 15 boundaries to bring up the welcome 300 for the County.

Olly Stone’s first-class personal best of 38 delivered a genuine last-wicket partnership of 52 with the scampering Mohamed Azharullah, and 385 against a side including acclimatising Aussie Peter Siddle and the in-form Zimbabwean Kyle Jarvis on a pitch offering some early seam was a good effort.

Big Rory Klienveldt has drawn some criticism from fans for his physique, but he is beginning to get to grips with the Duke ball and is bowling better lengths and threatening deliveries.

As long as you are accurate and move the Duke just enough, you will get wickets in England, and Lancashire were soon rocking at three for two.

But Kleinveldt did tire, and so was restricted to shorter spells.

The visitors somehow wangled three Kolpaks, as Ashwell Prince carried on where he left off last season by taking another ton off the Northants attack, even though he was irritatingly dropped three times.

The South African rather enjoyed the short boundary on the eastern side of the ground.

Northants superfan Wendell Pemberton was insisting on two gullies for Prince, but Wakely was not listening to the now familiar Caribbean patois from the boundary edge.

Believe it or not, but Wendell actually played international cricket for St Kitts & Nevis at junior level! So he says.

Some good news on a breezy day three was that the ‘Signal Box’ will remain the home of the supporters club for the rest of the season, as Travis & Perkins have agreed to fund a temporary bar between the West Stand and the Signal Box for around £7,000.

I’m guessing they were set to sponsor a Signal Box bar all along and why this was dropped on the fans at the March AGM - it was a rare win for the members in an increasingly corporate set up at Wantage Road.

Not surprisingly on election week, Tory Lord Naseby, the club patron, claimed to have had a quiet word to keep the supporters club in place. Anything to get a vote your honor! But the ‘blue seats’ are not as blue as you think.

The third day was another truncated one on the pitch as the ultra cautious umpires kept the teams off for the morning session in rapidly drying conditions after overnight rain, effectively killing the game.

Prince pressed on for an impressive 153 before being snared by sub David Murphy, who was on for Richard Levi, off a Crooky knuckle ball. Indeed, Northants had no less than four wicketkeepers on the pitch at one point in the day.

It was a surface flattening out and there was nothing much for the seamers as Siddle guided the tail to 436 all out after putting on 100 with Prince.

Well played to Kleinveldt with his five for 99, a bowler that may not fancy long spells but bowls a wicket-taking ball or two.

With Levi out with a broken finger, Rob Newton deputised with Peters and joined Wakeley back in the pavilion before the close as both wafted out.

The wind claimed its first casualty on the final day of the match when the main ground sheet ripped in half, resulting in a call to Lord’s as the groundsmen declined on ‘health & safety grounds’ to cover the full square with the remaining sheet in the vicious wind. If you think we can’t afford a new one you’re probably right!

On the field, with the weather forecasting as random as the umpiring as the rain was blown away, Northants batted on and on until stumps and handshakes with an entertaining 391 for five.

The Lancashire bowlers had lost their intensity and Peters helped himself to his second 50 of the game, while there were hundreds for Rob Keogh and the likeable Crook.

It was Keogh’s fourth ton in 35 innings, and highlights just how frustratingly unproductive Wakely’s career has been to date in the middle order, as he has just two tons in 129 innings.

But the game was wrecked by the weather and poor umpiring and a balance sheet 12-point draw it would be. I say bring back George Sharp and Peter Willey!