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September 7, 2011
Lancashire 337 for 7 v Hampshire
Everywhere you look at the end of this County Championship season there is intrigue. The pennant will go to one of three sides, while the same number are battling relegation with at least three teams fighting to replace them. Even a seemingly dead encounter, between Kent and Glamorgan next week, has been spiced up by being made a floodlit match with pink balls. Championship cricket certainly isn't dull.
At Aigburth it is business at both ends of Division One that is the focus of attention. Lancashire, despite being humbled for 80 by Worcestershire last week, are still very much in the title fight as they aim for their first outright Championship since 1934. Hampshire, meanwhile, are clinging to the hope of avoiding the drop following their victory against Somerset. Both teams, though, also have a close eye on events elsewhere; Edgbaston and Headingley.
The opening day in Liverpool, which has become Lancashire's second home for the season as redevelopment work continues at Old Trafford, but wasn't due to host this match until a late switch due to concerns over the relaid wickets, was exciting nip-and-tuck cricket in blustery, chilly conditions. The pitch was well-grassed which no doubt influenced Jimmy Adams's decision to bowl (Lancashire have lost all eight home tosses). But the home side picked two spinners and would have batted and the ball didn't move extravagantly.
Lancashire's final total of 337 for 7 was a terrific effort after being 125 for 5 midway through the afternoon as Glen Chapple, with his first half-century of the season, and Kyle Hogg added an unbeaten 99 for the eighth wicket. Hampshire let their chance slip away and the attack lacked a cutting edge as they shipped 145 runs off 25 overs in a shortened final session.
Tom Smith, a very resourceful allrounder, was dropped on 7 when Michael Bates palmed an edge over the slips and was also central to the recovery with 63. No Lancashire batsman has passed 1000 runs for the season - and with one game remaining the landmark could remain elusive - yet their lower-order strength, so often a part of the club's history, may prove a crucial factor.
"I've been due some runs, I've wanted to score reasonably heavily and felt like I owed the team a bit," Chapple said. "It's a good pitch, I think it will wear and turn as the game goes on. There's some life with the new ball and we are a good bowling until so we'll back ourselves."
Having put Lancashire into bat, Hampshire will have expected more than two wickets in the first session and may have hoped for some New Road scars among the hosts. However, after their rapid demise Lancashire got away from cricket for a couple of days before reconvening and watching footage of their successful Championship matches - which have been more frequent than their failures. A bit of positive reinforcement.
"Performances like that can be disappointing, but it was as heavy as it looked," Chapple said. "We got hammered, but that happens. If you have any sense you'll throw that away and that's what we've tried to do."
Stephen Moore was absent from the collapse against Worcestershire after his wife went into labour - or, rather, he was on the motorway back after the birth of his baby girl when he was told not to bother - and was the first to fall when he pushed at a ball slanting across him from Chris Wood. Karl Brown was then the victim of miscommunication when he wanted a second run but Paul Horton wasn't interested.
After the interval Lancashire found themselves back in trouble. Horton is the team's leading Championship scorer this season but hasn't reached a hundred which suggests plenty of middling scores. He made another, here, when he was adjudged caught down the leg side off Sean Ervine but didn't appear best pleased with the decision. Horton had barely had time to chunter in the dressing room when Ervine made his next delivery bounce at Steven Croft who deflected it into the stumps. At 98 for 4 bad memories could have resurfaced.
Luke Procter, a 23-year-old preferred in the team to former captain Mark Chilton, was impressive for two hours before he, too, played on against James Tomlimson but the allrounders staged a stirring fightback. Gareth Cross played a typically punchy innings in a stand of 58 with Smith before flashing at Wood but the momentum swung Lancashire's way as they gained a first batting point.
Smith's fifty came off 83 deliveries before he became Ervine's third scalp, top edging a hook to long leg, yet the innings did anything but die away as Chapple and Hogg produced their rollicking partnership which knocked the wind out of Hampshire. Hogg stood tall to drive and cut while Chapple didn't hold anything back as he took the attack to some tiring bowlers including a six off Wood in an over that cost 17.
Chapple raised his half-century with a square cut as he and Hogg added runs at more than five-an-over. Hogg was given a life on 43 when Liam Dawson couldn't gather a swirling top-edged pull that flew towards square cover and the second new ball didn't do anything to quell Lancashire's advances. Only the bad light, which arrived with seven overs remaining, followed by rain, did that.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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