Welch's rapid results

Northants 314 and 148-7 Warwickshire 447
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After two recent performances as ragged as the staff on the county badge, Warwickshire were back at their bear-like best yesterday. Northamptonshire, full of fight on the first two days - almost literally so as David Capel brandished his bat at the wicketkeeper Keith Piper - conceded a first-innings lead of 133 and then lost seven wickets in retrieving it. It would appear that only the rain forecast for tomorrow can save them now.

Last year Warwickshire won the Championship after losing to Northamptonshire at Edgbaston - regarded by most of those present as the finest county match they had seen. If this encounter has not been of such sustained quality, it has had enough ebb, flow and undercurrents to make the Benson and Hedges Cup semi-final between the clubs in 10 days' time even more eagerly awaited.

Warwickshire might well have forced a victory with a day to spare had two heavy showers not delayed yesterday's start by 65 minutes. During that time, William Hill's representative in the pavilion had lengthened the odds on either side, but by tea the champions were unbackable.

Half the home side went for 41 and Graeme Welch was close to the first hat-trick of his career after being summoned to replace Gladstone Small, who tweaked a hamstring in only his second over. Small joined the ranks of war-wounded bowlers forced to leave the field, but before doing so he captured the scalp of Russell Warren. Having fended one ball just wide of Wasim Khan at short- leg, Warren dollied the next into his hands.

Shaun Pollock's first ball of a fearsome spell had scuttled through alarmingly low, and before long Richard Montgomerie, doubt sown in his mind, edged one that rose to the wicketkeeper. From 16 for two, the damage was soon 33 for four: Welch, a Durham lad dropped early last season after losing confidence, steamed in from the old football stand end to have Mal Loye caught at slip and Capel leg before first ball.

With eight men round the bat, what would have been the hat-trick ball was slashed by Tony Penberthy between the slips and gulley. There was a third wicket in two overs, nevertheless, when Rob Bailey hesitated and was lost, run out from mid-on by Andy Moles. That will have pleased Moles, who had been distinctly irked to find himself described in one morning newspaper as possessing "the mobility of a coal barge".

Dermot Reeve's leadership was as irrepressibly bubbly as ever, his bowling changes touched by a combination of good judgment and good fortune. Dougie Brown, introduced immediately after tea, bowled Kevin Curran with his first ball and Neil Smith repeated the trick with his second to end Andy Roberts's resistance.

Reeve's own bowling lacked in control and he sensibly made way for Brown before becoming the fourth bowler of the day to limp off. In his absence Penberthy hung on with David Ripley to inch Northamptonshire ahead.

Earlier Moles completed an innings of 164 that lasted almost eight hours. Curtly Ambrose got one to sit up and Moles looped a catch to gulley, giving Ambrose his fifth wicket.

The shortened session produced 45 runs from 17 overs as Reeve and Smith treated Ambrose, Paul Taylor, Capel and the pitch with due respect, and both were then dismissed in the first four overs of the afternoon.

Reeve, one of those whose verbals had upset Northamptonshire on the first day, was leg before playing across a straight ball from Capel. In the next over, Smith top-edged Penberthy to mid-on. Small made productive contact with a few and the last-wicket partnership produced a useful 31 before the fifth ball of Roberts' leg spin trapped Piper.