Spriegel states his case as Northants hang in the contest

Matthew Spriegel top scored with 97 in Northants' first innings of 378
Matthew Spriegel top scored with 97 in Northants' first innings of 378

In May 2001, Northamptonshire’s number five made it to within four runs of a century against the defending champions, Surrey, at the County Ground.

It hadn’t been a swaggering innings by any means but it was sound enough right up to the moment when a loose drive from the medium pace of Mark Butcher was edged behind to Alec Stewart with three figures there for the taking.

Northants County Cricket Club v Durham.'Maurice Chambers. NNL-140415-165123009

Northants County Cricket Club v Durham.'Maurice Chambers. NNL-140415-165123009

The reason for such a recollection is that this reporter was the aforementioned batsman and the memory came flooding back when Matthew Spriegel was dragging himself off the field this afternoon.

The left-hander, who endured a personally barren year in his first campaign since joining from Surrey, had moved with few alarms to 97 against the current holders, making his highest score for the club in the process.

Then, with the nice bright lights which would’ve signalled a century on the scoreboard starting to appear before his eyes, he flashed at a wide Usman Arshad delivery and rather than see the ball race to the boundary boards, he could only watch as the edge found the gloves of Phil Mustard.

It was a deflating end to what had been a solid and morale-boosting performance by a player who, had the injuries not hit, would probably have been on the outside looking in.

Northants CC v Durham, County Groung, Wantage Road, Northampton. NNL-140415-165101009

Northants CC v Durham, County Groung, Wantage Road, Northampton. NNL-140415-165101009

Dispensing with the wary outlook of the previous afternoon which had seen him crawl to his overnight tally of 20, Spriegel, relatively speaking, opened his shoulders as he neatly collected runs off his legs and mixed in the odd crisp drive or cut for good measure.

There were a couple of hearty shouts from Graeme Onions but these were mere titbits on a good day for the number four.

And his effort was needed as the hosts threatened to chuck away their battling work of the previous day in the morning session.

Rob Newton’s jaunty stint ended in Scott Borthwick’s first over as the leg-spinner tempted him into edging to slip, Andrew Hall shuffled in front to Arshad and the same man accounted for David Willey who chipped to cover off the back foot.

A score of 268-6, 35 short of reaching the follow-on target, could’ve gone south but Steven Crook and David Murphy applied a pair of cameos to ensure that fate didn’t materialise.

Once Spriegel had fallen, Murphy gave Jamie Harrison a third wicket by locating first slip and Muhammad Azharullah was the last to go when Arshad claimed victim number four.

That gave the visitors an advantage of 74 which they had barely built on when Mark Stoneman missed the boat for a second time as he was taken at second slip off Maurice Chambers.

And there was a further breakthrough prior to the tea interval when the predictable use of spin before a break actually worked as James Middlebrook found Keaton Jennings’ outside egde.

While not quite in the balance, Durham would rather have been slightly more in command but if they had any wavering doubts, these were dispelled to some degree as Borthwick and Michael Richardson added some impetus.

However, the chance to take the game completely away from the County hit a snag as Middlebrook got rid of Borthwick, caught behind, and Mustard, lbw sweeping, in successive overs.

The ship was then steadied as the well-organised Richardson, who reached his second half century of the game, and Paul Collingwood came together and although the latter fell a few minutes before the close, a lead of 252 with five wickets remaining means Durham are the ones in control, although not as decisively as they perhaps should be.