reports from Edgbaston
Northants 152 and 346 Warwicks 224 and 267 Northants win by 7 runs
An enthralling contest in which both the champions and the contenders found themselves on the canvas ended at 2.45pm here yesterday when the former England all-rounder, David Capel, delivered the knock-out punch on Northamptonshire's behalf to secure victory by seven runs.
The result means that Warwickshire, defending their title, are still the leaders this morning but Allan Lamb's team, seeking to be the first Northamptonshire side to win the Championship, have cut their advantage from 17 points to two.
Given the size of his contribution to the match - a half-century and a seven-wicket career-best bowling return - it was appropriate that Capel should have the last word, pinning Tim Munton leg before wicket to end Warwickshire's attempt to score 275 to win.
Such was the high level of personal endeavour throughout the four days that Capel was only one of eight players with a claim to be the man of the match.
The ultimate choice would have to be Anil Kumble, the Indian wrist spinner, whose value to Northamptonshire this season has been immense. His second- innings figures of 7 for 82 were his best so far in the Championship, bringing his total for the season to 66, including 10 in this match and 13 in the one before.
His performance, plunging Warwickshire to apparently hopeless depths at 53 for 6 on Saturday, was the most significant of all but, even so, it was not before Dermot Reeve and Neil Smith had turned a game of ebbs and flows on its head again that Kumble was able to celebrate his success.
Reeve, Warwickshire's captain, joined forces with his off-spinner in an extraordinary partnership which added 108 runs without further loss on Saturday and continued yesterday morning. Kumble eventually parted them, 80 minutes into the day, when he bowled Smith brilliantly, seducing the batsman with a ball he could cut, but then whipping the next one through on to his stumps with top spin.
The alliance had put on 148 in 57 overs, Smith hitting 11 fours in 220 minutes at the crease. When Kumble struck twice more, in his first and second overs of the afternoon, tumbling to snare Keith Piper with a return catch and then causing Reeve to be taken, off bat and pad, by Rob Bailey leaping across the pitch from silly point, it seemed all over, with Warwickshire now 228 for 9.
But still there was one more twist. Allan Donald, another of the game's heroic figures, survived a hard caught and bowled to Kumble on five, but then he and Munton began to gather runs this way and that, and an unlikely 39 more went on the total before Capel, with the new ball, finally trapped Munton.
Not all of the cricket was good - in particular Warwickshire's catching - but the lapses were overshadowed by Donald's seemingly inexhaustible bowling, which brought him 10 wickets in the match, the steadfastness of Roger Twose in making 140 of Warwickshire's first-innings 224 and Capel's stickability in making 50 after Northants had been 69 for 6 on Thursday; as well as everything already described.
Lamb said it was "one of the best county matches I've played in. It was like a little bit of a war out there, but that's the way county cricket should be played. Warwickshire are very chirpy, very verbal on the field, but they met a side that matched them. Not swearing, but little off-the- cuff things, making the opposition think all the time. Warwickshire have always done that, and we gave it back to them."
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