Lancashire set up final day push
Lancashire 388 and 195 for 2 v Hampshire 381
It's time to get the calculators out. The permutations throughout the penultimate round of Championship matches have been many and varied but now some numbers really need to be crunched, especially for Lancashire and Hampshire as they try to keep themselves in touch at either end of the table.
Events at Edgbaston - where Warwickshire forced Nottinghamshire to follow-on - are also vital and Lancashire need to at least match the result of the hosts otherwise they'll be a distant third-favourite in the race for the pennant. Hampshire, meanwhile, are still in with a chance of maintaining their Division One status but they really need victory here to put pressure on Worcestershire. They will need to chase whatever target is on offer and Lancashire can decide what that is after closing 202 ahead following a superb final session.
Their hopes for a significant first-innings lead were dented by Sean Ervine's fine 128 which helped the visitors to keep the gap to seven runs. It left four-and-a-half sessions for either side to manoeuvre a position and Lancashire made the advances as Paul Horton, who fell in the 90s for the fourth time in the campaign, and Stephen Moore added 168 for the first wicket, the team's best opening stand of the season.
There was clear intent from the pair in the hour prior to tea as they scored at four-an-over but without taking risks although Horton was given a life on 25 when he was dropped at slip off Danny Briggs on his way to fifty off 76 balls. Progression wasn't quite as brisk during the start of the final session as Dimitri Mascarenhas bowled his first nine overs for eight runs but the pace picked up again later.
Horton, though, continued to lead the way including a well-struck six over deep midwicket and also used the reverse sweep when Briggs tried to nullify scoring options by coming over the wicket. However, three figures again eluded him - he has also been stranded in the 90s twice in the CB40 - when he picked out deep square-leg.
Moore had played second fiddle with a half-century off 122 balls, but Lancashire showed their intent as Glen Chapple came in at No. 3. They will need to decide overnight exactly what they want to set Hampshire. An aggressive hour of batting in the morning will push the lead towards 300 although it will be hard work to bowl a side out.
Hampshire began the day still 159 behind, but Ervine and Michael Bates took their sixth-wicket stand to 88 to frustrate Lancashire. The new ball had been taken first thing despite the impact of the spinners, yet Chapple and Kyle Hogg both bowled well enough to be deserve a reward with numerous deliveries missing the edge.
With a view to Hampshire's future it was an important innings from Bates who is an excellent gloveman yet doubts remain over his batting. The county tried to sign James Foster to replace Nic Pothas but it would be good to think they are willing to invest in a talented young player who can develop. Bates certainly didn't look out place during his near two-hour innings which ended when he was superbly caught at short cover.
It was spin that had again provided the breakthrough as Gary Keedy struck in his first over. Despite the breakthrough, though, Lancashire ran out of time for a full hand of batting points as Hampshire reached the 110-over mark on 309 for 6 with Ervine remaining firm having reached his first hundred of the season from 169 balls. Slowly wickets fell at the other end as Dimitri Mascarenhas edged to second slip and Keedy claimed his fifth when he clubbed to mid-off.
At that point, shortly before lunch, Lancashire still had a chance of a lead of around fifty but Briggs then provided valuable support to Ervine in a stand of 59. The relative ease with which Briggs batted showed that, while help was offer from the surface, it remained good for batting. However, he was dropped at slip on 10 which cost precious time. He became the first, and only, wicket of the innings to fall to pace when he drove Chapple to cover and the innings ended when Ervine picked out long on.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo