Hales is the main man as Notts keep up their title challenge

Muhammad Azharullah picked up two wickets with the new ball on the final morning
Muhammad Azharullah picked up two wickets with the new ball on the final morning

Northamptonshire were condemned to their 10th defeat in a dozen LV= County Championship outings as Nottinghamshire claimed a five-wicket success at the County Ground.

At 28-3 in pursuit of 211, the visitors were in a spot of bother but an unbeaten 102 from Alex Hales directed them to a hard-fought victory.

The result pushes the County closer to an immediate return to the second tier and while they are showing signs of knowing what is needed to compete at this level, it is all coming too late.

It was all set up for an intriguing day’s play first thing with a state of affairs that had the hosts needing to take 10 wickets and the visitors’ requiring 211 to maintain their challenge at the top of the Division One standings.

On a fourth day pitch that was doing enough to make batting a less than straightforward proposition, both sides would’ve fancied their chances, the County because of the inroads they made with the new ball first time around and the visitors due to the state of the form book.

Before play got under way, Notts were odds on to triumph but 45 minutes into proceedings this price would’ve lengthened considerably as Muhammad Azharullah and David Willey shared three wickets.

Steven Mullaney was the first to go in the opening over as he wafted loosely at Azharullah and edged behind and the same bowler got rid of the nightwatchman Ajmal Shahzad, also for a duck, as he hit him in front.

Michael Lumb provided some unconvincing resistance for a short while but his stay concluded when he moved too far across to Willey and was cleaned up behind his legs.

This made the score 28-3 and the 183 still needed might have seemed a long way in the distance but when the lunch break showed its face, the title chasers were back in the ascendancy.

The ball losing its hardness inevitably restricted the number of deliveries that misbehaved and as a result, Hales and James Taylor were able to bed themselves in while steadily reducing the target.

The runs required display showed 118 at the interval and 60 minutes into the afternoon session this had been almost halved with Taylor was plodding along and Hales taking the upper hand.

An element of control that had been missing in the longer form of the game has found its way into Hales’ make-up this season and while there was the odd impetuous flash, by and large he was in complete control.

Taylor, giving Neil Wagner his first wicket in County colours having conceded 143 runs beforehand, edged behind and Samit Patel limply chipped to cover but while Hales stood firm the game was Notts’ to lose.

While in the 80s he lost his way for a touch as the County plugged away and he really should’ve become Wagner’s third victim but Andrew Hall floored a waist-high offering from a loose back foot drive.

But Riki Wessels took 19 off a Wagner over and with six required for victory and Hales eight shy of three figures, a boundary through midwicket and a dismissive six down the ground achieved both in one hit.