Prince stars for improving Lancashire
Lancashire 276 for 4 (Prince 121*, Croft 78) v Middlesex
It may not have been regarded as the most significant result of the summer but Lancashire have gained important momentum from last week's battling draw at Edgbaston to deliver their best batting performance at Aigburth this season.
Seven matches into their title defence and still without a victory is not the start Lancashire had anticipated, particularly after strengthening their mis-firing batting line-up by re-signing South African batsman Ashwell Prince. But they showed character in abundance to turn around their fortunes from another shaky start.
Deciding to bat first after winning the toss, they slipped to 55 for 3 and were facing yet another failure to record a competitive total in a season where they have passed 300 only twice in the last 10 innings. Building on the spirit developed against Warwickshire last week, when the saved the game after following on 360 runs behind, Prince's first century in county cricket since 2009 ensured they finished on top at the end of an absorbing first day's play.
"We needed this," admitted Prince, who finished unbeaten on 121 after a disciplined innings spanning nearly five hours at the crease. "We had to dig deep at Warwickshire, we didn't want to roll over.
"If we are honest we put in a way below par performance in the first innings there on a good pitch. This is what we needed to do to kick-start our season."
Having battled through the first hour's play, Lancashire provided Middlesex with encouragement when Stephen Moore pushed to cover and set off on a quick single only for Joe Denly's brilliant throw to run out Paul Horton. Karl Brown lasted only two balls before falling in the next over, rewarding Tim Murtagh's excellent new ball spell by edging behind.
To compound Lancashire's disappointment at having their solid start undermined, Moore was all too eager to make up for a run of 15 first class innings without a half century by mis-timing an attempted hook off Gareth Berg to long leg.
Having been dismissed for 250 and 124 in the first innings of their previous two matches at Aigburth this season, Lancashire knew they needed a partnership if they had any hopes of posting a competitive score against a Middlesex line-up including Eoin Morgan, who was playing his first championship match since July, 2010.
They were provided with a 176-run stand between Prince and Steven Croft, who were both forced to play within themselves for long periods. They compensated for a 23-over spell without a boundary by scampering between the wickets and both used their feet to combat Ollie Rayner's off-spin intelligently.
"Steven has played very well this season and he always seems to come to the party when the team needs him and he did it again," enthused Prince. "It was a nice partnership and I enjoy batting with him.
"He's really maturing as a batsman. We really had to knuckle down and get a partnership together to get ourselves out of a bit of trouble. He played the situation perfectly."
Croft, a naturally aggressive batsman, hit only one four and a slog sweep for six off Rayner in his half-century, but fell for 78 to the first delivery with the new ball when he edged Murtagh behind.
Prince remained defiantly, however, and progressed to his first century in county cricket since scoring an unbeaten 135 against Nottinghamshire at Old Trafford three years ago, reaching the landmark with a push for three through mid-wicket off Corey Collymore.
"I have been close a few times this season so it is nice to get over the milestone of getting a hundred," he conceded. "People won't realise that the last 10 times I have been passed 50 I haven't been able to convert and that has been on my mind. It has been a frustrating season for me back home, so it is a bit of a relief."