Horton vigil earns Lancs draw
Warwickshire 557 for 6 dec (Clarke 123*, Chopra 113) drew with Lancashire 197 and 343 for 5 (Horton 137*)
Paul Horton batted for more than seven and a half hours as Lancashire escaped with what had appeared more than once to be a draw that was beyond their reach. It did not prevent Warwickshire overtaking Nottinghamshire at the top of the First Division table, but denied them the 15-point lead they were hoping to secure.
Lancashire avoided a fourth defeat in their sixth match of the season and did so in such a way that it felt like a win. Horton finished unbeaten on 137, his best score in the Championship since September 2009 and his first century in the competition for more than two years, and found significant support too from Luke Procter, with whom he shared a partnership of 61 spanning more than 26 overs when the Warwickshire attack was at its most dangerous, and Gareth Cross, who himself survived for 13 minutes short of three hours for his unbeaten 75, playing his part in a stand of 139 that Warwickshire could not break in 51 and a half overs of trying.
It could, perhaps, be a turning point in Lancashire's season. Peter Moores, their head coach, will try to make it one for sure. "It does feel like a win in a way," Moores said. "In some ways it is like a 19-point win, in that while we get only three we stop them getting 16, which makes it quite a significant result.
"It was an opportunity to show some fight and get our season moving after a difficult start. We have struggled for runs so it was important to get some momentum to carry forward.
"It was a great knock from Paul because he was under pressure throughout, in light that was not good against a Warwickshire side who went at us really hard. This was a chance to save a game in adversity and he took it. But Luke Procter deserved a lot of credit, too, as did Gareth Cross, of course."
Moores shied away from the opportunity to declare Lancashire's title defence to be over already, although he would admit that the ground lost will be difficult to make up. Second-bottom of the table, they are 51 points adrift of Warwickshire, who have played one match fewer.
"I don't think you can say the title has gone but we are not thinking about that," he said. "It is the time now to just think about the next game against Middlesex and take each session one at a time, as we always do. But this gives us some momentum, which you always want, and we just have to build on that."
A draw had scarcely seemed possible when Lancashire were 54 for 5 on the second evening after Warwickshire's marathon first innings was finally declared. Nor when they were forced to follow on 360 behind midway through the third day.
It still appeared unlikely on the final morning, given they had lost eight wickets in the course of Friday and somehow needed to preserve their remaining seven on a pitch, you supposed, that would be at its least benign.
But Horton answered Lancashire's call to shoulder the burden of responsibility by maintaining a vigil that revealed patience, good judgment and unwavering concentration. It was particularly merit-worthy not least because Horton had not scored a Championship century since April 2010 and had been out four times in the 90s last season, which only added to the psychological pressure under which he found himself.
Warwickshire lead the First Division, yet will feel they should have taken the opportunity, having already won at Liverpool this season, to complete a double over the side that pipped them to the title last year, and put daylight between themselves and the pack.
Lancashire were helped a little by the weather, in that the start was delayed until 11.45 because of rain, but reached lunch with only one more wicket lost after Steven Croft was given out caught at second slip in the seventh of the 84 overs left, the ball coming off a low part of the bat from a full length delivery by Chris Wright, the catch a brilliant one-handed effort by Rikki Clarke.
But Horton, making light of the extra responsibility on his shoulders after Stephen Moore, Karl Brown and Ashwell Prince were out on Friday afternoon, had stuck to his task exceptionally well, adding only nine runs to his 56 overnight but more importantly preserving his wicket.
The middle session was the toughest. Jeetan Patel did not find much help for his off-spin but was naggingly accurate, while he and Procter had to contend with a hostile spell from Clarke, who tested Horton's supposed weakness against short-pitched bowling and was convinced he had him caught behind off the glove on 78, only for umpire Martin Bodenham to remain unmoved.
A change of pace, with Darren Maddy entering the attack to skid the ball through, accounted for Procter, but Cross was no less dogged, and ultimately found opportunity to unleash some aggression as fielders crowded the bat. Once Warwickshire turned first to Ian Westwood and then even to Varun Chopra, Lancashire knew the job was almost done.
Horton deserved his century, that came off 242 balls in a little over five hours and contained 14 fours, and equally so deserved to still be there at the end, at 20 minutes to six to be precise, when Jim Troughton, the Warwickshire captain, decided finally that the win had eluded him.