Ward throws bat to rescue Leicestershire

Northamptonshire 159 Leicestershire 185

Leicestershire did a pretty good job of squandering the advantage Northamptonshire's inadequate batting performance had given them yesterday by managing only to limp into a first-innings lead of 26 here on a day in which 20 wickets fell with no blame attaching to the pitch.

Leicestershire did a pretty good job of squandering the advantage Northamptonshire's inadequate batting performance had given them yesterday by managing only to limp into a first-innings lead of 26 here on a day in which 20 wickets fell with no blame attaching to the pitch.

A straw-coloured surface and some pleasant morning sunshine made batting first seem the logical option when David Ripley won the toss, but, with the air humid, Leicestershire bowled accurately enough to employ swing to significant effect, reducing their opponents to 57 for 6 and then 79 for 7.

At that moment it seemed reasonable to assume that Northamptonshire, without a Championship win so far, would be hard pressed to break their duck in this match, despite retrieving modest respectability through the fast bowler Lesroy Weekes' unbeaten debut 44. But when Leicestershire later revealed they too could mount a spectacular collapse, all forecasts had to be deferred.

The home side's reply began well enough, the early loss of Iain Sutcliffe overcome by Trevor Ward and Ben Smith, who took the total into the nineties before another wicket fell, Ward collecting seven fours and pulling Darren Cousins for six over the short Milligan Road boundary in an 81-ball half-century.

But any thoughts of a substantial lead disappeared after Ward was brilliantly caught by Russell Warren at mid-wicket. Nine wickets tumbled for 93 runs, the collapse developing as a cool, overcast afternoon gave way to a sunny, sultry evening and the ball began to deviate in the air as it had in the morning.

Devon Malcolm, still effective even at 38, ended with four wickets against his former colleagues, but the more telling damage was done by Phil DeFreitas and Darren Maddy, the former hardly a spring chicken at 35. Having suffered a shoulder injury in April, DeFreitas was making his first Championship outing but needed only four deliveries to strike the first blow as Mal Loye fashioned a drive that went straight to gully.

The looseness of that stroke was duplicated more than once until Weekes, a 29-year-old who played two first-class matches for Yorkshire last season, stopped the procession. But in the end Leicestershire's competence against the moving ball was no more impressive as Weekes, Cousins and Kevin Innes claimed three scalps each, aided by some fine catching, notably by Graeme Swann, whose one-handed effort at third slip to remove Carl Crowe was from the top drawer.

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