Lancashire lack Aigburth magic
Sussex 137 for 3 (Yardy 70*) lead Lancashire 124 (Croft 50, Anyon 5-36) by 13 runs
Lancashire's form at their Merseyside base last summer was one of the main contributory factors in them achieving a first outright Championship victory in 77 years, but they had a far from happy return after a disappointing opening day to the defence of their title.
Four victories and only one defeat from their six matches at Aigburth while Old Trafford was being refurbished gave them crucial momentum towards their historic success, including a convincing innings victory in their opening match of 2011 against Sussex.
Despite a healthy crowd, who suffered cold, breezy conditions despite the sunshine all day, Lancashire were unable to repeat a similar level of performance and finished struggling to remain competitive after Sussex seamer James Anyon claimed 5 for 36 and Steve Magoffin, their Australian overseas player, impressed to finish with 2 for 21.
Dismissed for only 124 in 52.2 overs in early April conditions that particularly favoured the taller bowlers after losing a crucial toss, Lancashire rallied to leave Sussex struggling on 15 for 3 before an unbroken 122-run fourth-wicket stand between patient opener Ed Joyce and the aggressive Michael Yardy ensured Sussex finished the day ahead.
"It was a tough day, really," admitted Stephen Croft, the only Lancashire player to reach 50. "Conditions were tough and we'd have liked to have got over 200 but we fell a bit short of that. It was seaming quite a bit, but it's typical early season English conditions and they put the ball in the right place most of the time."
After 13 wickets fell in just over two sessions, events naturally attracted the suspicion of Peter Walker, the ECB's pitch liaison officer. After inspecting carefully, he reached the correct conclusion that the surface was not to blame, explaining "both sides bowled extremely well".
That verdict particularly applied to Sussex's attack, who exploited the early conditions expertly. Anyon received the plaudits for his five-wicket haul, but they will have been equally delighted by the contribution of Magoffin, who began his county career with an exhausting 10-over new-ball spell without any complaint.
Both Anyon and Magoffin were rewarded for extracting pace and bounce from the wicket, while Monty Panesar marked his first match since returning from England's tour of Sri Lanka by turning the ball from an early stage. It was not until Croft teamed up with Glen Chapple, playing his first innings as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year, in an aggressive 41-run seventh-wicket stand that Lancashire began to break the spell.
Lancashire enjoyed such powers of recovery on several occasions last summer that it was no surprise that Sussex also struggled in reply until the mixture of styles provided by Joyce and Yardy rescued their cause. Recognising it was no pitch for flashy strokeplay, Joyce knuckled down to score 48 in 41 overs at the crease while, in contrast, Sussex captain Yardy provided a more aggressive innings and hit seven fours to reach an unbeaten 70 off 88 balls.
While it would be foolish to rule out Lancashire's chances - they won their last two matches last season after being dismissed for only 80 in Worcester - regaining control of this match would perhaps be their greatest turnaround yet.
"We've been in this position quite a few times last year with our backs against the wall a little bit, but we generally come out and play well and hopefully we can do that," Croft said. "It looks very tough going into tomorrow but we've been in this position before and hopefully we can use our experience."