Northants indebted to Crook
Steven Crook hit a memorable run-a-ball maiden first-class hundred to lead a Northamptonshire fightback against his former club Middlesex in the LV= County Championship Division One match at Lord's.
The 131 came in his 95th first-class innings and the 31-year-old all-rounder was joined in a determined seventh-wicket stand of 144 by Andrew Hall, who scored a more circumspect but no less valuable 75, as bottom-of-the-table Northants recovered from 168 for six to reach 384 and avoid the follow-on.
In 11 overs' batting on a sunlit evening, however, Middlesex stretched their overall lead to 134 by reaching 30 for the loss of Chris Rogers for 18 in their second innings and will still be looking to force a fifth championship victory of the season on Wednesday's final day.
Northants resumed on 89 for three in reply to Middlesex's 488 for nine declared and, initially, their only lengthy resistance came from James Kettleborough, the 21-year-old right-hander who scored 73 on championship debut playing only his second first-class game.
He gave a difficult chance to gully off Toby Roland-Jones on 48 but from then on looked as assured at the crease as he had on the second evening, while Rob Newton and Ben Duckett both fell before lunch.
Newton, who had plundered a string of early boundaries off Steven Finn to go to 35, was lbw to Roland-Jones as he pushed half-forward, and a disbelieving Duckett fell for five when Finn somehow managed to cling on to a firm straight drive to pull off a brilliant, tumbling caught and bowled.
Kettleborough finally fell 10 minutes after lunch, smartly caught in the gully by Eoin Morgan as he drove loosely at Finn. He had faced 169 balls, but his departure left Northants still 171 runs away from avoiding the follow-on.
Enter Crook to join Hall, who had already got into the 20s and was showing he was capable of frustrating the Middlesex bowlers.
Together, and despite a narrow escape on 35 for Hall when he edged Finn to see Dawid Malan just fail to scoop up the low chance at second slip, they began to get on top on a glorious afternoon.
Hall got to his 50 first, but Crook's arrived from only 61 balls and at tea their counter-attack had propelled Northants to 312 for six.
Their stand was Northants' highest of the season so far and ended when Hall was bowled by a beauty from Finn, three balls after the interval.
Crook, who went from 86 to 98 with three fours - a hook at Roland-Jones, and a square cut and top-edged carve off Finn - got to 99 when Maurice Chambers, who would have been run out had the throw hit the stumps, called him through for a single to backward point.
And a 103-ball hundred was reached when Crook steered Roland-Jones to the vacant third-man boundary.
It was a memorable moment for a player who made his first-class debut in 2003 and was making the 74th first-class appearance of a career in which he has represented both Lancashire and Middlesex besides being in his second spell at Northants.
Crook was eventually stumped, advancing at Ravi Patel's left arm spin, after hitting 23 fours from 124 balls and, with Rob Keogh unable to bat because of a fractured finger suffered in the field on day one, the Northants innings ended when Chambers missed a sweep at Patel and was bowled for 20.
Crook said: "I have got close to scoring a hundred a few times before, but it was pretty special to do it finally at Lord's.
"Every time you come here it's special. You walk through the Long Room and reflect on everything that has happened here in cricket's history.
"I really enjoyed the innings and to do it against my former Midd lesex team-mates was also special. They were quite nice to me, actually, although Steven Finn did try to bounce me a few times.
"It was a great innings too from Andrew Hall and I was so pleased to see James Kettleborough bat so well and get 73 on his Championship debut.
"We need to be aggressive again tomorrow in the field, and see what happens then."