Valiant Lancashire make their move
Lancashire did as much as they could to keep their LV= County Championship title dream alive – even if events elsewhere may ultimately deny them.
They maintained – nay, greatly enhanced – their chances of winning the trophy outright for the first time since 1934 on another compelling day at Taunton, only for Warwickshire, whom Lancashire must rely on not to win, to move into a similarly dominant position against Hampshire.
Somerset ended the third day here on 105 for five in their second innings, a meagre five-run advantage, after their top order subsided against a rampant Lancashire side fuelled by the whiff of a last-gasp victory and a place in the history books.
Lancashire had earlier stretched their first innings to 480, which equated to a lead of 100, on the back of Steven Croft’s 54, a meaty 46 from Kyle Hogg and useful contributions from all his lower-order colleagues.
Many will expect, with considerable justification, Lancashire to complete victory at some point tomorrow, but news that Hampshire were forced to follow on 169 behind at the Rose Bowl – and lost a further three wickets when they did so – was a rare black mark on an otherwise joyful day. It was a rather big ‘but’.
The season will therefore go do to the final day for the second year in a row and, whatever happens on the south coast, the standing ovation afforded Lancashire players by an increasingly boisterous contingent of travelling fans was wholly deserved. Gripping does not do it justice.
Those same players and fans spent the first half of the day fretting over the collection of five batting bonus points, a feat achieved with three balls of their permitted 110 overs to spare amid much chewing of fingernails.
Warwickshire claiming a sixth Hampshire wicket – and second bowling point – soon rendered that irrelevant, but Lancashire pressed on nonetheless.
Each player did his bit: all XI reached double figures for only the second time in Lancashire’s history, a statistic made more remarkable by the fact the highest score was 68.
Resuming on 247 for three this morning, they made healthy progress despite losing Luke Procter, who edged Murali Kartik to slip, Tom Smith, lbw to Alfonso Thomas’ slower ball; and Croft, who drove Steve Kirby tamely to cover.
Hogg was dropped twice – by Alex Barrow at short-leg and James Hildreth at deep midwicket – and Glen Chapple was reprieved by Kirby running in from the square-leg boundary the ball before Lancashire breached 400.
Kirby held a significantly tougher chance in a similar position to account for Chapple, on the hook, after Hogg fended to Kartik at short midwicket, giving Gemaal Hussain wickets in successive overs and figures of 2-99 that still flattered him.
Simon Kerrigan, an England spinner in the making, according to Lancashire coach Peter Moores, demonstrated his worth with the bat courtesy of a breezy 40, more than doubling his previous best and dominating a last-wicket stand of 57 that ended when he was drawn down the track by Kartik, who finished with 5-137.
Chapple, who has seemingly been treated by Mr Miyagi for the suspected torn hamstring suffered on the opening morning, struck four overs into a commendable eight-over opening spell as Lancashire built on their considerable gains.
He trapped Arul Suppiah lbw on the back foot despite the hint of an inside edge, and Hogg had Barrow and Chris Jones taken at first slip and behind the wicket respectively in the space of six deliveries to leave Somerset 25 for three.
If Lancashire were buoyant when Hildreth, who made 186 in the first innings, was stumped as he charged recklessly – not to mention needlessly – at Keedy, they and their hard-done-by supporters were positively delirious after Paul Horton pulled off a stunning one-handed slip catch at the second attempt to remove Jos Buttler off Kerrigan two overs before the close.