Basic instincts served Northumberland well yesterday.
There was nothing flashy about the hosts’ performance on day two against Norfolk, but sticking to the basics put them into a position to start their 2014 Minor County Championship season with a win.
If Norfolk’s first innings can be wrapped up for less than 176, Northumberland will hope they have left themselves enough chance to win. The weather will be a factor too, and Adam Cragg’s side could well find they run out of time.
But whatever the result of this game, they can be pleased with how they have gone about it.
What pleased their professional and top-scorer Jacques du Toit the most was how long the team spent at the crease.
Minor Counties sides are restricted to 90 overs in their first innings, but Northumberland fell only two balls short of that, collecting maximum bonus points along the way.
“To bat our 90 overs was brilliant,” said the former Leicestershireplayer.
“I think that was the first time since I’ve played for Northumberland that we’ve done that. Then the bowlers did their job by hitting areas knowing the pitch will do the rest.
“Last year in three-day cricket we didn’t really do the basics right at all, not once.
“This year we’ve started off batting the 90 overs, we’ve put pressure on the opposition and now we’re creating partnerships as a bowling unit.
“I know if we do our basics right we will be successful because we’ve got the talent.”
The morning was the type to frustrate the hell out of any cricket supporter.
A warm sun shone brightly on the outground but there was no cricket to watch, with the boggy bowler’s run-up at the rugby ground end the problem.
At least the umpires thought it was a problem. It was noticeable how much success the bowlers running across it enjoyed – and how much pace Michael Craigs and Karl Turner generated – and that the pile of sawdust there to help them grip the surface went totally untouched.
Nevertheless, it was 2.10pm before the players got on, and as soon as they did – inevitably – the first drops of rain fell.
Only 50 minutes were possible, played through two showers until a third fell which was too heavy to ignore, but it was long enough for du Toit to make his third century for the county. Having lost Tommy Cant early to a sharp slip catch by Harry Bush, du Toit batted carefully, yet brought up three figures in style, with his second six of the day. His first had gone into the rugby ground.
Conscious of the batting points up for grabs, Northumberland were more positive when play resumed nearly two hours later.
Du Toit signalled his intent by hitting the first ball of the session straight down the ground for four, but his eagerness to retain the strike was his undoing, run out from fine leg going for a hopelessly optimistic two.
Craigs followed next ball chasing a slightly wide delivery to be caught behind with 31 needed from just over five overs.
David Hymers and debutant James Barnes ran well between the wickets but, with two needed from the 90th over, the youngster edged behind. Tom Hodnett stroked his second delivery for three, only for Hymers to be bowled from the next.
Northumberland needed a steady stream of wickets to give them a chance of victory and Craigs was up to the task, charging through the troublesome run-up to send the ball down at good pace. He struck in his second over, trapping the dangerous James Spellman lbw.
Peter France was caught behind for 17, then more than Craigs and Adam Cragg thought they had removed him for.
Peter Lambert got lucky in the next over, edging Hymers through gully on six but his was also a short-lived reprieve, lbw playing a long way back to the same bowler.
When former Durham wicketkeeper Garry Park was bowled by Craigs for a duck, Northumberland had taken four Norfolk wickets in under an hour.
There was no let-up from the change bowlers, Turner bowling Bush with his first delivery.
“We’re not looking at the follow-on mark, we’re just looking at the next wicket, the next basic thing,” said du Toit.
“That’s what we did really well yesterday – creating chances and taking them.
“Weather permitting, I’d backus to win. There’s enough in the pitch and we’ve got the bowlers to do that.
“The guys are just doing the basics right and that’s paying off.
“They want to do well and that’s such a massive thing. They’re not searching for it – all they’re doing is hitting the right areas. They’re running in with a purpose.
“Everything we do is just simple cricket, and that’s why they’ll be successful.”
Play will start half-an-hour early at 10.30am today to make up some of the time lost.