Kirby shows teeth but Lancashire regroup
Stumps Lancashire 361 for 7 (Smith 89, Moore 73, Kirby 5-79) v Somerset 268 (Compton 61, Keedy 3-26)
For the second day running, Lancashire recovered from a difficult first session to take the upper hand, this time repelling Steve Kirby's efforts to remind them forcibly of his local roots to establish a useful lead, much to the pleasure of another sizeable crowd, who turned out not just to enjoy the sunshine but to show their appreciation for Liverpool's temporary status as the county's headquarters.
Around 1,300 spectators have turned out on each of the first two days, their presence lending an old-fashioned festive atmosphere to this pleasant tree-lined ground with its splendid Victorian pavilion.
The club is equally renowned for producing a good cricket wicket and Kirby, born in Bury and a young player for Heywood, near Rochdale, clearly felt at home, his figures of 5 for 79 not really doing justice to how well he bowled, particularly in the morning and early afternoon, when he found the right length to allow the ball to swing away late and threatened to demolish Lancashire on his own, exacting revenge, perhaps, for being overlooked by them in his youth.
It was down to him, certainly, that Lancashire lost their way a little after Paul Horton and Stephen Moore had put on 93 for the first wicket, making it appear that Somerset's 268 might have been a good score after all.
After Kirby had taken his first four wickets, Lancashire had a good deal of repair work to do at 169 for 5.
But as Kirby tired and no one stepped up in an effective supporting role, a stand of 113 between Gareth Cross and Tom Smith for the sixth wicket swung the day back in Lancashire's favour, with the Sri Lankan all-rounder Farveez Maharoof -- inspired by the opportunity to take on his compatriot, Ajantha Mendis -- chipping in with an unbeaten 49 on debut to stretch the home side's lead to 93 at the close.
Smith has needed to be versatile in recent seasons, when he has alternated between his present middle-order slot and opening. He made his career-best 128 against Hampshire at the Rose Bowl last July as Horton's partner at the top of the order but looks more suited to coming in lower down, although the experience he had gained against the new ball probably helped him summon the patience required to dig Lancashire out of their hole.
Solid and organised, he would have been aware that he would need to be the steadying influence in the rebuilding work, first with Gareth Cross, older but less experienced, and then with Maharoof, who arrived in the middle announcing -- in Smith's words -- that he was going to "smoke Mendis".
Just as well, then, that Smith had set his focus on being a slow burner, batting for four and a quarter hours without offering a whiff of a chance until Marcus Trescothick, who had used five bowlers in support of Kirby with only limited success, decided to try Arul Suppiah's left-arm spin.
Smith had reached 89, his best score since that century last July, and clearly felt a fourth first-class hundred could be his when he found himself stretching to reach for a ball from Suppiah and edged to Trescothick at slip.
After Horton, much earlier, had edged Charl Willoughby to first slip, the morning belonged to Kirby, bowling with brimming intent and as impressive as Saj Mahmood had been on day one.
The 33-year-old, who has been on the fringes of the England team without really coming close to selection, is with his fourth county, having started his professional career with Leicestershire. His biggest success, winning a Championship medal with Yorkshire, is a decade ago now but he has moved from Gloucestershire to Somerset over the winter in the belief that he might enjoy a reprise.
He looked like a match-winner yesterday, striking first to have Moore edging to gully to be out for 73, his best Championship score for Lancashire. It was the first of three wickets in 10 balls, followed up when Karl Brown edged to point and Steven Croft was caught behind. Figures of 6-1-19-3 reflected an impressive opening spell.
Early in the afternoon, he made Mark Chilton his fourth victim, snaffled by Trescothick at second slip, and gave a leap and a punch of delight when he broke the Smith-Cross partnership in similar fashion, having the latter caught, again by Trescothick at second slip, just after the wicketkeeper had completed a bright half-century.
But there was an element of frustration behind the celebration, too, with Lancashire already back on top.