Red Rose hopes wilt
Lancashire’s status as LV County Championship title favourites was a fast-fading memory after day two at the Brit Oval.
A trio of forty-something scores and VVS Laxman’s 53 were no adequate response to Surrey’s Mark Ramprakash-inspired 427 for nine declared as Lancashire mustered only 234 all out
The hosts chose not to enforce the follow-on before reaching 21 for none and an overall lead of 214.
As events elsewhere conspired to increase the chances of both Sussex and Durham overhauling Lancashire in this final round of matches, Red Rose hopes of an elusive first title for 73 years receded dramatically.
Far from chasing the victory they need to be sure of protecting the six-point lead they had two days ago, Mark Chilton’s team were in danger of defeat.
After they had quickly removed first-day nemesis Ramprakash (196) and therefore limited the damage Surrey’s last four wickets could inflict this morning, Lancashire’s batsmen needed to reply with purpose and substance.
At no stage of another mostly overcast day did they look likely to do so.
Captain Chilton and number three Steven Croft managed only four runs between them before falling to seamer Matt Nicholson (three for 30).
Chilton dispatched the first ball of the innings for four, but Nicholson immediately made up for that errant leg-side full-toss with a near yorker which hit the opener on the toe near enough to the line of off-stump to persuade umpire Neil Mallender to give him out lbw.
In his next over, Australian Nicholson struck again with a wicket ball which bounced and left Croft from a good length and had him edging behind for a duck.
At eight for two, Stuart Law announced himself with boundaries off the first two balls he received from his compatriot - through midwicket and mid-off - and he and another Australian-born batsman, Paul Horton, avoided further mishap before lunch.
Lancashire were compromised by the match situation and the bigger picture and therefore had to bat on with rain threatening - until taking a second offer of bad light just before tea, which did not preclude a prompt return afterwards.
The conditions did not deter Laxman - although after batting with determination for an 80-ball 50, his exit to a mis-hook to fine-leg off Chris Jordan (three for 50) was disappointing and in keeping with Lancashire’s collectively faulty performance.
Laxman was the last frontline batsman to go - after Law, Horton, Luke Sutton and Glen Chapple all departed between lunch and tea.
Law inside-edged a drive at Nicholson on to leg-stump, Horton was caught behind down the leg-side off Jade Dernbach, Sutton went to an arguable lbw decision against the off-spin of Murtaza Hussain and Chapple was caught in the gully off Ian Salisbury for just a single.
Once Laxman followed them back soon after tea, only some late hitting from Dominic Cork delayed the inevitable - confirmed when last man Gary Keedy gloved one behind off Jordan.
Ramprakash had earlier appeared to be setting his sights on a 14th double-century.
But having been rarely tempted to hook, he had a go at the 282nd ball he faced and paid the price, failing to get on top of the shot off Chapple to be well caught by Oliver Newby running in at long-leg.
It meant Surrey’s run machine would have to make three figures in his last innings too to reach an aggregate of 2,000 for the second year running.
There was nonetheless the consolation of 29 fours and two sixes - the second a memorable flat-bat over extra-cover from down the wicket off Chapple - in his six-and-a-quarter-hour tour de force.
Lancashire had already seen off Nicholson, Sajid Mahmood (four for 93) getting one to climb and have his victim fending a catch behind.
Salisbury was to go lbw soon afterwards to Chapple, but the Surrey tail still stuck around long enough to further frustrate Lancashire on a day which was to go from unpromising to much worse for them.