An unbeaten century from Alex Hales enabled Nottinghamshire to maintain their challenge for the LV= County Championship title with a 5-wicket success over Northants at the County Ground.
A mighty six from Hales took him to 102 not out and lifted Notts to their victory target of 211. The right-hander, on the day that he was anxiously waiting to hear if he had made the England ODI squad, scored his runs from 142 deliveries, with 16 fours and that mighty maximum hit high back over the head of bowler Andrew Hall.
Hales had shared in a stand of 122 with James Taylor, who made 37, to take the match away from the home side. His only life came on 88, with the finishing line in sight, as Hall put him down at slip off Neil Wagner. Wagner, on debut, had bowled 21 overs without success in the first innings and a further 12 in the second before he rekindled Northants’ hopes of a shock win by removing Taylor and then Samit Patel in quick succession. The Hales drop was decisive.
Riki Wessels brought the match to a swift conclusion as 21 came off the next Wagner over, with the former Northants man clubbing a huge 6 over long on, his 22nd of the LV=CC season.
Northants had made a positive start to the day with Muhammad Azhar Ullah removing both openers for nought in his first two overs. Steven Mullaney fell to the fourth ball of the day, edging behind to Ben Duckett, who was keeping wicket in place of the absent Adam Rossington.
The first runs came courtesy of two lots of four leg byes but the third time Shahzad was hit on the pads was enough for umpire Nick Cook to uphold a successful lbw appeal against him. Worse was to follow for the title contenders. Michael Lumb had scored 99 in the first innings, so his early departure after wandering across his stumps to expose his leg peg to Willey, gave the hosts another massive boost.
Hales and Taylor then combined to transfer the complexion of the post-lunch session. With Hales repeatedly battering the boundary boards by punishing anything with width, and Taylor cleverly rotating the strike and turning ones into twos, they gradually turned a challenging day into a race for the line with their 29-over stand.
The home side had competed as equals for much of the four-day contest but having let Nottinghamshire escape, having been 25 for four on the first evening, the outcome was ultimately predictable.
Nottinghamshire’s victory, their sixth of the season, earned them 23 points and keeps them hard on the heels of leaders Yorkshire, whilst Northants, still looking for their first Championship success of the season took only 4 points from the contest and slipped to their 10th defeat in 12 matches.
Over the four days it reminded me of the Somerset game where we were competitive over a number of those days, winning at least two, but on the one that we lost Notts made significant strides in getting away from us.
Northants Cricket Head Coach David Ripleycommented on the game saying, “We’ve played against one of the best teams in the country over four days and we’ve got a lot to be positive about. In the LV= County Championship, our last two games have been good, competitive games of cricket, not getting hammered by an innings and we’ve had chances to win.”
Centurion Alex Hales said, "I’m absolutely delighted to get us over the line like that. That’s such an important victory in our season but even after losing those early wickets, we were still confident and I thought James Taylor played absolutely beautifully. Riki Wessels totally took the game away from them at the end there and I thought I was running out of chances to get to a hundred. Following the tons for the Lions last week, at Lord’s on Thursday and now today I feel I’m in the best form of my career and I hope it continues.”