Clarke deepens Lancs anxiety
Lancashire 250 and 44 for 4 four trail Warwickshire 329 (Clarke 140, Maddy 112, Kerrigan 4-89, Hogg 3-68) by 35 runs
Rikki Clarke often responds to questions about his "unfulfilled talent" with a roll of the eyes and the deadest of verbal bats. All the same, when the Warwickshire all-rounder bats as fluently as he did in making 140 against Lancashire on the third day at Liverpool, it is inevitable that good judges will speculate about what he might have achieved with a little more consistency and, perhaps, a little more application.
Clarke's innings could not have been better timed, and neither could many of his shots. He joined Darren Maddy seven overs into the day's play with his side on 81 for seven, still needing 19 runs to avoid being asked to follow-on. Smoothly shrugging off the prospect of such an indignity by lifting Simon Kerrigan for the first of his three sixes, Clarke then proceeded to change the character and tempo of the contest.
The former Surrey and Derbyshire batsman shared an eighth-wicket partnership of 224 runs with the admirable Maddy, whose 112 was his first championship century for nearly four years. Their stand fell just four runs of the county's all-time eighth-wicket record set by Bob Wyatt and Alf Croom against Worcestershire in 1925. More significantly, it meant that instead of conceding a substantial first-innings deficit, Warwickshire were able to take a 79-run lead into the second half of this fluctuating game.
By the close of play Lancashire were only 35 runs behind but they had lost four choice wickets, three of them to the new ball. Stephen Moore, who has yet to pass 20 in eight first-class innings this year; Paul Horton, who gloved a lifting delivery to Tim Ambrose; and Karl Brown were all claimed by the impressive left-arm seamer Keith Barker. Then, immediately after being dropped by Clarke off Barker, Steven Croft very unwisely slog-swept Jeetan Patel to Neil Carter at deep square leg to complete Lancashire's miserable day. Warwickshire will go into the fourth morning with buoyant expectations that they can clinch a remarkable victory.
Indeed, the only good news for Lancashire supporters on Saturday arrived around teatime when Old Trafford officials confirmed that Junaid Khan has been given permission to play for them in both t20 and championship games this season. The Pakistani fast bowler is expected to arrive at Old Trafford in June.
By then we will have a better idea of whether Lancashire are in anything like decent shape to defend their title. The evidence of the first two games is not especially encouraging for them.
Yet it is key to an understanding of the Maddy-Clarke partnership that Lancashire did not bowl poorly on the third afternoon and nor did the Liverpool pitch wicket flatten out. The ball continued to pass the bat but the Warwickshire pair responded to any small defeats with phlegmatic temperaments and sound, albeit contrasting, techniques.
At first Clarke was intent on taking the initiative away from a Lancashire attack which had been buoyed by Kerrigan claiming the wickets of Chris Wright and Tim Ambrose in the first seven overs of the day. On the ground where he took a record-equalling seven catches in an innings last August, Clarke took the attack to Lancashire with a display of controlled hitting which never veered into mere slogging. He chose the balls to hit wisely and he timed his strokes pleasingly well.
After reaching his half century off 49 balls, he took a more sedate 89 deliveries to reach three figures. At the other end, Maddy ground his way to an equally vital century off 176 balls, an effort that was all the more praiseworthy given that he had been hit on the hand by Chapple early in the first session.
It all made for good watching for the Warwickshire supporters, some of whom had draped a St George's flag across one of the stands at Aigburth. In one corner of the patriotic symbol was a bear and ragged staff; but across the middle were written the words 'One Rikki Clarke.' By Saturday evening, everyone could see what the fuss was about.