Championship leaders do battle on see-sawing day
Lancashire 313 v Durham
The injury to James Anderson might be seen as an invitation to Graham Onions to earn an England recall at Lord's on Friday and that possibility will certainly have been in the mind of selector James Whitaker as he settled into his vantage point here but he probably left with the impression that the Durham fast bowler's rehabilitation needs to be extended a little longer yet.
He produced some decent deliveries and might feel he was a shade unlucky that his first spell gained only one success as Lancashire's batsmen struggled on an overcast morning with drizzly rain in the air. On balance, though, his 17 overs may not have been quite threatening enough and his adrenaline-fuelled comeback against Yorkshire at Headingley last month, when he took five for 53 in the first innings, set a standard he has not yet been able to repeat.
After a year out with a career-threatening injury, there is no rush, of course. Durham, who had to rule out Steve Harmison because of back trouble, are in no hurry to lose him, particularly given that their recent form has given rise to thoughts of a third Championship title in four seasons.
In fine form with the bat -- the first eight names on their card here average 37.42 or higher this season -- they might point out that they are not exactly short of effective bowlers, either. Despite Harmison's absence, and with neither Liam Plunkett nor Ruel Brathwaite selected, they had seven different wicket-takers here.
Nonetheless, Lancashire will probably be satisfied with a total in excess of 300 on a pitch that cannot properly be assessed on the basis of one innings. They would have been, for sure, when they were two down for nine and riding their luck in the morning session. These two are in the in-form sides in the Championship, occupying first and second places, and Lancashire were ready to be tested.
Batting was clearly hard work at first. The colour of the pitch suggested it would be helpful to the bowlers and if there was any hesitancy in Durham asking the visitors to bat first it would be only with the knowledge that Somerset scored 610 after being put in on a similarly green-tinged surface here three weeks ago.
Phil Mustard did not expect a similar misjudgement, however, and he looked to have called right when Stephen Moore edged the sixth ball of Callum Thorp's first over to third slip and then Onions produced a lovely delivery that Karl Brown, drawn into the drive, nicked to Michael Di Venuto at second slip.
Paul Horton, rapped on the pads by the first ball of the match from Onions, had scored only one when he edged a ball from Thorp past the fingertips of first slip and had another bit of luck when on 18 he sliced one close to point. Mark Chilton, meanwhile, enjoyed the benefit of the doubt when he had scored only a single after Onions thought he had gloved a catch behind.
But Onions and first change Mitch Claydon both tended to bowl a little too short and Lancashire built a solid recovery around an ultimately admirable innings from Horton that spanned three and a half hours and deserved a better fate than to be terminated when he was just six runs short of first Championship century since April last year.
The Australian-born opener made 93 against Yorkshire at Liverpool a couple of weeks ago and will have fancied he could improve on that, especially when he took 14 in one over off an increasingly frustrated Ben Stokes, including three boundaries. But Stokes gained revenge when he knocked back Horton's off stump, perhaps pushing the ball through with a bit of extra pace
Horton had shared a partnership of 77 for the third wicket with Mark Chilton, who was out in unusual circumstances when an edge off Dale Benkenstein's medium-pace was not taken by wicketkeeper Mustard, standing up, but looped to Di Venuto at slip.
Steven Croft, with whom Horton had put on 33 for the fourth wicket, provided Di Venuto's third catch, taken acrobatically at the second attempt as Ian Blackwell's left-arm spin began to make inroads.
Gareth Cross fell to the same bowler, stumped as he injudiciously went down the pitch, and when Scott Borthwick, whose legspin was only scantly used, struck with his third delivery, nipping one through that surprised Tom Smith, Lancashire had slipped from 191 for 4 to 225 for 7.
But Lancashire recovered again, thanks to a typically canny effort from Glen Chapple, who picked his shots wisely and found an able partner in Luke Procter, who had been preferred in Lancashire's attack to Saj Mahmood. The two added 87 in 17 overs before Chapple miscued a cut to be caught at wide third man.
Procter then edged a drive and Kyle Hogg was bowled without offering a stroke as the last three wickets fell for one run but Lancashire's in-form bowlers have something to defend.