It was either Phil Simmons, who followed his county-record score of 261 with a fine slip catch and the vital wicket of the day, or Jack Birkenshaw, Leicestershire's cricket manager, who had ignored vocal management opposition last summer and insisted on signing Simmons in place of Winston Benjamin. Birkenshaw could not have expected vindication so soon: 'Roy of the Rovers, wasn't it?' Birkenshaw said.
His reasoning was that Leicestershire had three decent opening bowlers on the staff already and it was justified yesterday when this trio took seven wickets between them, helping to bowl out Northamptonshire for 266, 42 more than their first-innings total. This left Leicestershire needing only nine runs on top of their first innings 482 to win.
Alan Mullally, Leicestershire's Southend-born, Australian-reared, left-arm fast bowler was trying especially hard because Brian Bolus, the England selector, was watching, and he would have liked what he saw. Bowling down the hill on a fast bouncy pitch, Mullally got the first two wickets to fall, Nigel Felton for 16 and Rob Bailey for 14.
Mullally deserved better figures than two for 56, but the Northamptonshire tail fell to a portly David Millns bowling at less than full pace; three for 40 flattered him. The middle order was felled by a burst from the third pace man, Gordon Parsons. It is not hard to see why the groundsman spent the winter preparing a faster strip at Grace Road.
The 31-year-old Simmons played like a county veteran, advising the spinner, calling encouragement, appealing stoutly and loyally bowling a spell of his medium pace in the middle of a hot afternoon. A larger than usual crowd was turning a pale shade of pink while Alan Fordham had been proceeding quietly to his 100 (195 balls, 13 fours) and his partnership of 75 with Mal Loye looked like making a game of it.
But when Fordham, on 102, finally reached forward and omitted to play a stroke the bowler, of course, was Phil Simmons.
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