Cricket: Swann spins in to record best figures

Northamptonshire 509 Leicestershire 311 & 143 Northants win by innings & 55 runs
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The Independent Online
SEPTEMBER IS the month for swan-song, though none would have sounded sweeter than the one emitting from Wantage Road yesterday when the off- spinner Graeme Swann produced the best bowling figures of his short career. On a dusty pitch he finished with 11 for 126, six of them in the second innings, as Northamptonshire overwhelmed Leicestershire by an innings and 55 runs with over a day to spare.

Swann operated for much of the time in tandem with left-arm spinner Michael Davies, who took six wickets in the match, turning the ball consistently from outside off-stump. Extracting consistent spin requires strong fingers and Swann toughens the skin on his by dipping them in his own urine.

In keeping with his feathered namesakes, he will also fly south this autumn, his tour to South Africa with England no doubt boosted by his performance in this match. It may be the only benefit for his strong finish to the season and, welcome though the 20 points are, they may not be enough to ensure a top-nine finish for his county, who must still win next week's match against Glamorgan to stand a chance of being in Division One next season.

As is so often the case, the breakthrough after Leicestershire were forced to follow-on 198 runs behind was unplanned. At least it was for Darren Maddy, who was run out backing up at the bowler's end after Kevin Innes had touched Darren Stevens' straight drive on to the stumps. Until then neither batsman had looked troubled as the 50 partnership was reached. In fact Maddy had unfurled some splendid offside drives and cuts off the fast bowler whose radar appeared to be locked into something other than the stumps.

When sides are following-on, any breach tends to cause the jitters and Iain Sutcliffe looked late on a ball from Paul Taylor that hustled through his defences to strike timber. When the time for spin came, few of the top order looked eager to apply the concentration that had seen Leicestershire's tailenders add 71 to their total, 44 of them by Carl Crowe, for the last two wickets.

As he had done in the first innings, Stevens fell to an ill-conceived legside hoik off Swann. The shot, which found Taylor at deep mid-wicket, brought an unambiguous response from his batting partner Aftab Habib, who gave the departing batsman a piece of his mind. It is never wise to chide except from a position of strength and it would have been understandable had Stevens had his say when Habib returned to the dressing-room a few overs later. Like the opener, Habib was guilty of a repeat mistake when he again padded up to Davies without offering a stroke.

With the score on 69 for 4, Swann went into overdrive, removing Paul Nixon and Vince Wells in quick succession before accounting for three of the last four wickets. The win, which seriously dents Leicestershire's chances of finishing second, also extends their win-drought on this ground to 25 years.