Willey’s blast puts Northamptonshire in strong position

Northamptonshire celebrate a wicket for Mohammad Azharullah on day two of the County Championship clash with Gloucestershire. Pictures by Dave Ikin
Northamptonshire celebrate a wicket for Mohammad Azharullah on day two of the County Championship clash with Gloucestershire. Pictures by Dave Ikin
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Three wickets in four balls from David Willey helped Northamptonshire to a healthy lead over Gloucestershire after day two of their LV= County Championship Division Two match at Wantage Road. By close on day two, Northants were 68 for 2 in the second innings, 105 in front.

The visitors lost their last four wickets for no runs to finish on 296 all out but that seemed scarcely possible, when Geraint Jones’ team moved serenely if cautiously through the morning. Having resumed on 18 for no wicket, Chris Dent and Will Tavare had little cause for alarm as both looked comfortable on a pitch which was expected to be best for batting on the second day.

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Northamptonshire’s bowlers were largely ineffective early on but Mohammad Azharullah was more probing in beating the bat. It was the 31 year-old Pakistani who induced Dent to edge behind to Rossington for 40 to end an opening partnership of 85. Four overs later, he trapped Tavare LBW for 34, but at 112 for 2 at lunch, Gloucestershire would have been the happier.

Runs flowed after the interval, but Northants were more threatening with the ball in a closely fought afternoon. When Azharullah yorked Gareth Roderick for an impressive 56, Alex Wakely’s team looked set for a healthy first innings lead with Gloucestershire 185 for 5.

But Jones in his first game as Gloucestershire captain counter-attacked first with support from Kieran Noema-Barnett and then from James Fuller. Spectators may have been reminded of his exploits for England ten years ago in their famous Ashes win over Australia as several punches through the covers contributed to a valuable half-century.

Jones and Fuller added 82 for the 7th wicket before Willey intervened via his second over with the second new ball.

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First Fuller was caught in front of the crease, LBW. Two balls later, Miles chipped to short mid-wicket without scoring, only to watch Liam Norwell’s off stump clipped on the very next ball.

While Taylor survived the hat-trick ball, Jones was castled by Rory Kleinveldt for 80 in the next over, meaning that Gloucestershire were all out for 296. four wickets having fallen for no runs in six balls.

Despite Miles removing Levi and Peters inside five balls, Northamptonshire lead by 101 with eight wickets intact and they can thank Willey for his remarkable over which have put them in front at the halfway stage.

Willey was phlegmatic about his over, “To be honest, it didnt swing with the old ball. I thought it might swing and pitched it up. I knew we were always going to be in the game with the way that Jones and Fuller batted, both going for their shots. I was lucky to hit the right area at the right time.”

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“The first hour tomorrow is going to be massive. If we can get through that, we will be a in a really strong position.

Meanwhile, Jones was full of praise for the Northants all-rounder, who took a hat-trick to clinch Northants’ famous t20 Final win over Surrey, “Although we’re disappointed to lose four wickets at the end in quick succession, make no mistake - Willey’s bowling at the death was top-class. There’s still something in the pitch and if we can get some early wickets tomorrow morning, we’ve got a chance to still win this. I was pleased by my own batting performance.”

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