Following on 239 behind Hampshire, there was a faint gleam of hope when Alan Fordham and Rob Bailey started to build a second-wicket partnership. If they were able to raise the scoring rate in the last hour and get to within, say, 75 of Hampshire's total with nine wickets standing, there was a chance of a memorable recovery tomorrow.
But, with eight overs to go, on a turning wicket, Bailey misjudged the slow left-arm spin of Rajesh Maru and played on. Bailey, who was 49, had struck the ball firmly, especially through the covers; his stand with Fordham had added 89 and Northamptonshire were 124 for two, still 115 behind Hampshire.
When Allan Lamb, still batting with a sore thumb, came in the scoring rate slowed, and at the close Northamptonshire were still 99 behind Hampshire. They might struggle to a draw tomorrow, but that depends on Northamptonshire's batsmen producing a couple of commanding innings, as Robin Smith (172) and Mark Nicholas (120) did for Hampshire.
If a good individual performance was a requirement in Northamptonshire's first innings, it was a necessity in the second. The best they managed in the first was 58 by Paul Taylor, who batted for two and a half hours after coming in as a nightwatchman; and Fordham's patient 72 not out in the second innings.
Because of spirited hitting by two of Taylor's fellow lower order batsmen, Jeremy Snape and Anil Kumble, Northamptonshire managed to score 321, but that was 239 behind Hampshire and they were still more than 200 behind when they lost Richard Montgomerie, caught at second slip off a well-directed, good length ball from Kevan James. Montgomerie had added only six to his single in the first innings, and, after scoring 192 in his first game this season, his decline may be shadowing that of the whole team. Only Lamb - with seven scores of more than 50 in 15 innings - has been consistent.
One of the few events that cheered the crowd was the news that their rivals, Lancashire, had lost to Gloucestershire. But it will have been a memorable recovery if, by tomorrow evening, Warwickshire do not lead Northamptonshire by 20 points. The two teams play each other at Edgbaston next week in a match that will surely decide whether Northamptonshire are to be fashionable or not.
There is no talk yet in the County Ground pavilion of a fateful change of luck. They are, as they say, taking each game as it comes. So any suggestion that this shaky performance against Hampshire marks a significant shift in fortune is not permitted, even though it follows a bad defeat by Lancashire a fortnight ago.
The official reasons for Hampshire's dominance are losing the toss on a hard, dry pitch that took spin at lunch on Friday, 24 hours earlier than expected; and, second, a couple of dropped catches that proved expensive as Hampshire scored 560.
The notion that this match would be won by spin seemed justified on the second ball of the day when Rob Bailey played back to Shaun Udal and was bowled for 55. But the next three batsmen fell to seam or pace.Reuse content