How quickly things can change. Somerset went into their final four LV= County Championship matches harbouring aspirations of a maiden title; now, with one day left in the second of those games, their season has all but coughed and spluttered to an end.
Yesterday's tired disintegration in the field after tea felt as if it marked the final few breaths of Somerset's campaign – and, with it, Dave Nosworthy's reign as director of cricket.
While nothing should be taken away from Ben Duckett's maiden century – he finished with 144 not out from 210 balls – the circumstances which allowed him to reach such a total seemed to suggest a Somerset team drifting toward the autumn.
Context is important here. Bottom-of-the-table Northamptonshire have not won any of their 12 Championship matches so far this season. So, when 19-year-old Duckett – with a career-best score of 56 and a first-class average of 18.26 – came to the middle with his side 194-6 in reply to the hosts' first-innings 314, alarm bells should not have been ringing.
More than 66 overs later, however, Northants were declaring their first innings on 448-9 – surpassing their previous highest score in the Championship this season by 64 runs – with Duckett revelling in a maiden first-class century.
He had brought up three figures by dispatching Alfonso Thomas into the Somerset Stand for six, and by the time he was dropped by James Hildreth on 117 and Thomas – to whom he offered a sitter at mid-on – on 133, Somerset's slump was complete.
By stumps, skipper Marcus Trescothick and Johann Myburgh had seen out nine overs to reach 38-0 – and Somerset will resume on the final day today 96 runs behind.
Somerset all-rounder Pete Trego denied his team were – to quote one questioner – 'in disarray', feeling their efforts with the ball in the first two sessions of the third day deserved much more than they yielded. But he conceded his side's intensity had dipped once it became clear they could no longer win the game.
"I wouldn't go as far as to say disarray is where we're at – but, for anyone who was here watching the game, it was clear to see that it was just one of those bizarre days in cricket," said Trego. "It could have easily been 250 all out, the way we bowled.
"I don't think I've ever seen a passage of play, like when Alfonso and Craig (Overton) were bowling, where virtually five balls every over could have been dismissals. There were nicks flying just wide of the slips, chop-ons going for four, and top-edges going over the keeper. But disarray is definitely not where we're at."
Northamptonshire had started the day on 135-4 – 179 runs behind Somerset – after Overton's intervention late on day two. But by lunch, despite their best efforts, they had taken only two further wickets. Adam Rossington was removed by a fine diving catch from Alex Barrow off Thomas for 27 as he flashed, while Rob Keogh – dropped on 31 – fell three runs later when he was held by the captain at second slip off the same bowler.
Two more wickets fell between lunch and tea, but not before Duckett and James Middlebrook had added 117 for the seventh wicket. They brought up their fifties in consecutive overs, with the hundred partnership following soon after, before Middlebrook rather tamely drove Trego to Lewis Gregory at extra cover for 61.
David Willey was bowled by Jack Leach for 8, missing everything as he attempted to slog-sweep, but Duckett and Andrew Hall saw the visitors to 344-8 at the interval.
In the 21 overs after tea, Northants moved to 448-9, Hall lbw to Thomas for 31, before Duckett went on the offensive, reaching his maiden hundred as he and Azharullah (5 not out) put on 64 in 12 overs.
"The reality was that, as soon as they got a substantial lead, the chances of us winning the game went out of the equation – so then there's a danger you can drift," said Trego.
"It actually played into our hands the fact they kept on batting, because it shortens the time we have to bat to get a draw out of the game, which is pretty much the most likely result, apart from them winning. Your intensity changes when you can't win the game – so it played into our hands that they went on a bit longer than I think they should have."
Somerset – who had been boosted during the lunch hour by the sight of Craig Kieswetter in the nets for the first time since suffering an horrific eye injury last month – batted out the day, with Trescothick on 18 and Myburgh 17.