Defeat number nine looming for outclassed County

Muhammad Azharullah took three wickets in Somerset's second innings
Muhammad Azharullah took three wickets in Somerset's second innings
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The wildly optimistic among the Northamptonshire faithful will have noted that 296 more runs are needed against Somerset on the final day for a first LV= County Championship victory of the season.

The more pessimistic, or should I say realistic, will see that only five more wickets have to fall before defeat number nine is confirmed.

Of course, there is the chance that a draw could, somehow, be ground out but I wouldn’t be holding out any hope.

Given four sessions, or 135 overs if you prefer, to chase a target of 404 which is more than they’ve managed to score at any stage this season, the County limped to 108-5 by the close as the visiting seamers got to work.

After James Middlebrook and James Kettleborough put on a solid enough 40, the former departed in identical fashion to the first innings when he edged Lewis Gregory behind.

Richard Levi fell in the same way to the next ball and when Rob Newton dragged on attempting to cut Alfonso Thomas, the graffiti artist was already staring at the wall and preparing his spray can.

Matt Spriegel didn’t give the scorers anything to do before he edged Thomas to James Hildreth at first slip on the back foot and an all too familiar tale was unfolding.

However, there have been few bright spots in such an abysmal few months but the emergence of Kettleborough is one.

Having had to wait for his opportunity, the opener has taken to his task in promising style and he again looked at home in the senior side.

Favouring the off-side, he put away whatever loose stuff he was given and when he drove Thomas through extra cover for his 11th boundary it took him to a thoroughly deserved half century.

He was put down by Hildreth a couple of overs later on 56 and only added two more before he became George Dockrell’s first wicket of the contest when he was snared at short-leg which was a pity given how well he’d played.

This brought about the introduction of a nightwatchman in the shape of Olly Stone and he and Kyle Coetzer managed to avert any further damage before close.

First thing, once the home side had failed to make an early breakthrough it was a case of playing out time before the declaration arrived.

Had a couple of wickets fallen early on then a different scenario, one with the County attempting to force the issue, could have been played out but both Chris Jones and Hildreth looked in little trouble which enabled Somerset to set the pace.

And there was little of it as 92 unflustered runs were added with Hildreth looking more comfortable than his junior partner who nevertheless stuck to his task without losing patience.

It was therefore something of a surprise when, a couple of minutes before lunch, Hildreth gave Middlebrook a return catch from a leading edge.

The advantage stood at 318 heading into the afternoon and while the pace didn’t really quicken, the hosts earned some reward for their endeavour.

Peter Trego and Craig Overton, caught at cover off the back foot and clean bowled respectively, fell to the persevering Muhammad Azharullah and Jones, 13 short of what would’ve been a maiden Championship century, fell leg before working Middlebrook to leg.

Thomas top-edged the stand-in captain to square-leg and it was left to Gregory, showing that he could be comfortably better than a number nine, and George Dockrell to add a few more before the declaration arrived at tea time.