Northants and Leicestershire heading for a stalemate after slow day at the County Ground
Brett Hutton admits it is difficult to see any other result than a draw from Northants' Specsavers County Championship Division Two clash with Leicestershire , but admitted 'stranger things have happened'.
Thanks to the complete washout of the second day, Leicestershire will go into the fourth day on 273 for seven in their first innings, still 26 adrift of Northants' 299 all out compiled on the opening day.
Day three at the County Ground was attritional, with the Foxes plodding to their total from 92 overs, with the Northants bowlers showing good control.
With just one day remaining, it seems highly unlikely anybody will be able to force a result and Hutton, who was one of five of the attack to take a wicket, said: “At the start of the day we had hopes to bowl them out cheaply and get a good lead but they played well, there was only one half-chance.
"Maybe we could have been a bit more aggressive with our lengths but they saw the new ball off well.
“We did well in the afternoon to keep the runs down throughout the afternoon and when we started to breakthrough, we still had a good lead.
“It’s now tough to get a result but strangers things have happened if we can get far enough ahead tomorrow.”
The mainstay of Leicester's innings was opener Hasan Azad, whose put together a carefully compiled 92 from 212 balls.
Azad batted for more than two sessions to help the Foxes reach their total, before bad light curtailed the day 15 overs early.
Following a century in each innings against Gloucestershire in his last match, Azad again demonstrated a thirsty appetite for occupying the crease and blunted a game Northants attack who operated with good control throughout the day and found some movement.
The 25-year-old left-hander showed excellent judgement to leave well and was proactive in his defence, often advancing at the bowling to negate the moving ball.
There were only three boundaries - one of them a top-edged pull over the wicketkeeper’s head - in his 132-ball half-century.
His strike-rate was pedestrian but it was a classic case of grinding out a score when timing wasn’t particularly easy and the bowling was probing.
After tea, Azad very carefully swept Rob Keogh’s off spin for four before an all-run four, via an overthrow, took him to 90.
His latest advance down the wicket saw him shimmy out at Luke Procter to drive him through mid-off and take him past 600 runs for the season.
But within sight of a third consecutive century, Azad clipped Procter straight to Matt Coles at backward-square leg.
The trap had been set for much of the day and he finally succumbed after a 212-ball vigil.
Procter struck again immediately, trapping Colin Ackermann lbw for a third-ball duck and as the new-ball was taken, Northants sensed a first-innings lead.
The new ball paid prompt dividends as Harry Dearden edged Ben Sanderson to wicketkeeper Adam Rossington, who was wrong-footed and dived to his left to take a sharp chance. Sanderson then swung one into Mark Cosgrove to win an lbw appeal.
Cosgrove had batted with Azad for much of the afternoon in a stand of 115 for the third wicket.
The evergreen Australian played the shot of the day by driving Coles with a flourish past mid-off on a day where timing the ball proved difficult and played another flowing cover drive for four off Procter. But after reaching a fifth fifty of the season in 87 balls with six fours, fell for 63.
Dieter Klein was then pinned lbw by Matt Coles after striking three boundaries in his 15 and the wicket was the fifth to fall for 48 runs in 12.2 overs.
The late burst saw Northants finally find reward for a day where they remained consistent with the ball.
Initially they were frustrated with only one wicket with the first new ball - Paul Horton edging Nathan Buck to second slip for 29 after an opening stand of 60 - and had to wait until after lunch for a second breakthrough when Neil Dexter was caught in the crease by Hutton and fell for 27.
For Northants, Sanderson finished with two for 55 from 22 overs, while Luke Procter took two for 37 from 12.