Lancashire face tough chase
Lancashire 179 and 8 for 0 v Nottinghamshire 203 and 233
Such was the conviction of both teams that the pitch at the Trafalgar Road ground would be a spin-bowling paradise that Lancashire jettisoned Saj Mahmood and Nottinghamshire elbowed Charlie Shreck so that both could accommodate two twirlers. Yet by the end of day two, 30 wickets had fallen and only two to slow bowlers.
Instead, Glen Chapple, the Lancashire captain whose form at 37 shows little sign of waning, became the second seamer in the match to end with six wickets, after Andre Adams for Nottinghamshire. Yet the visitors are favourites to take the points after leaving Lancashire to score 258 to win, which looks like a tall order as they seek to overtake Durham at the top of the First Division.
Ironically, it is one of the players who would not have been picked had the appearance of the surface not proved so deceptive. Graeme White, in as the second spinner for Notts, finished unbeaten on 54, his highest first-class score since moving from Northamptonshire to Trent Bridge, albeit from limited opportunities.
The slim right-hand batsman, who bowls slow left-arm, has an aggressive instinct, as he demonstrated with a couple of sixes in his first-innings 32 and again when he hoisted Tom Smith over midwicket to go from 44 to 50, but otherwise provided his side with an innings of necessary application after they had slipped to 139 for 7 on a pitch that has played pretty well, save for occasional uneven bounce.
His partnership with Steven Mullaney, the former Lancashire all-rounder, may have been the key one in the context of the match. The pair added 71 in 16 overs for the eighth wicket and though Chapple, who bowled 25.3 overs compared with two each for the Lancashire spinners, Gary Keedy and Simon Kerrrigan, came back to remove 10 and Jack on the Notts card to finish with 6 for 70, you suspected that the game might have slipped away from the home side and that they may start the next round of matches still in second place, with their game in hand gone.
White and Samit Patel, the two slow bowlers on the Notts side, were not required at all as Lancashire, who had had their opponents reeling at 27 for 5 on day one, somehow managed to finish the first innings in deficit.
Jack Birkenshaw, the former purveyor of right-arm off breaks, left during the afternoon, having fulfilled his obligations as pitch liaison officer, pronouncing that the pitch was a "good cricket wicket", offering good carry, and that essentially the bowlers had simply outperformed the batsmen.
There was little argument on that score. Adams and Kyle Hogg, both medium pacers, have been the key performers. After Hogg's 5 for 28 from 13 overs, Adams retorted with 6 for 71 from 24 as Lancashire were dismissed for 179.
Adams, last season's leading wicket-taker in the Championship lost his cutting edge for a while as he struggled with niggling injuries but is worrying opposition batsmen again now.
Experience has made him a clever bowler, always with a ball up his sleeve to take a batsman by surprise, and he has quietly taken his score to 40 wickets for the season. He has the stamina and enthusiasm, moreover, to bowl long spells, as he did here, sending down 13 overs off the reel.
Keedy, the nightwatchman, was undone by extra bounce as Darren Pattinson had him edging to third slip but Tom Smith was bowled off an inside edge as he prodded tentatively at a ball from Adams, who obtained a leg-before decision against Gareth Cross two balls later that was greeted with a meaningful examination of his bat by the Lancashire wicketkeeper, which seemed to indicate that he thought he had hit the ball, even if umpire Trevor Jesty disagreed.
Adams struck for the sixth time when Alex Hales took a sharp catch at first slip to remove Steven Croft. Chapple, who hit Adams for an enormous six towards Grosvenor Road over long off, perished making room for himself as Luke Fletcher summoned up a leg-stump yorker. Simon Kerrigan gloved one from Pattinson as he tried to withdraw the bat, leaving Hogg unbeaten on 23. The last six Lancashire wickets had fallen for 67.
Given that Warwickshire and Hampshire have both been docked eight points this season for failing to prepare adequate pitches, groundsmen tend to get twitchy when wickets fall too quickly but all too often bowlers get little credit for doing their job well and batsmen get off too lightly for playing loose shots.
When Nottinghamshire began the task of adding to their 24 run lead, for instance, Neil Edwards was driving when he edged Hogg to point and Riki Wessels was perhaps a shade careless, too, with the ball from Chapple that gave Cross a catch behind the stumps.
Even Hales, who looked in superlative touch as he reached 50 from 60 balls, gathering nine boundaries along the way, gave his wicket away by playing a long way from his body at a ball from Tom Smith, Croft taking a two-handed catch at backward point.
Patel, having made a solid start, shouldered arms to Chapple, losing his off stump to a delivery that clearly swung back in appreciably, the Lancashire skipper picking up two more wickets as Adam Voges slashed and Chris Read drove loosely, Cross again completing the job behind the stumps, in the first instance taking the ball one-handed.
At 138 for 6, Notts led by only 162 and the stage was set for Adams to put on his Mr Sensible hat again. Unfortunately, he lasted only one ball this time, heaving inelegantly across the line of a delivery from Hogg that sent his middle stump cart wheeling.
The outcome looked in the balance at this point, with Lancashire probably favourites, but that changed as the bowlers began to toil with a ball that had lost its hardness and White and Mullaney put together the biggest partnership of the match.
Mullaney went for 42, leg before trying to whip Smith through midwicket, after which Chapple had Pattinson caught behind from a ball he could only fend away and claimed his sixth wicket, following on from his five in the second innings as Lancashire beat Yorkshire at Headingley last week, when Luke Fletcher was caught at midwicket.