North's strugglers scrap for first win
Lancashire 141 for 8 (Horton 31*, Onions 4-35) lead Durham 102 (Procter 5-17) by 39 runs
To paraphrase that north-eastern philosopher Terry Collier, of The Likely Lads fame, the homes of Lancashire and Durham supporters have hardly been filled with jollity and merriment this season. In Bacup and Blaydon, expectations have had to be adjusted downwards as the teams who have bagged the title in three of the last four years have failed to muster a championship win between them in 13 attempts.
So it was not surprising that the first day's play at Chester-le-Street saw both sides exhibit the batting frailties that have bedevilled their early seasons. Eighteen wickets fell, and by no means all of them could be explained by the pitch or the atmosphere, helpful as the latter was.
For the sixth time in nine completed first-class innings this year Durham were dismissed for under 164 and their 102 all out was their lowest total since they managed a mere 90 against Lancashire at Old Trafford in 2008.
For their part, Lancashire have been bowled out for fewer than 200 six times this season and it astonished few pundits when they lost four wickets, all of them to the resurgent Graham Onions, in reaching 19. Paul Horton and Luke Procter then ground out 44 runs for the fifth wicket but even that most modest of revivals was stifled when Procter played an uncharacteristically loose cut to Ben Stokes.
Horton ploughed doggedly on, though, batting throughout the 40 overs faced by Lancashire. Helped by Gareth Cross, Glen Chapple and Kyle Hogg, he batted , making 31 not out off 103 balls, and by the close Lancashire had carved out an advantage of 39 runs. For all that he was bowled by a Jamie Harrison no-ball when on six and dropped at slip by Gordon Muchall off Stokes when 11, Horton's was a gutsy effort, well befitting the man who batted nearly eight hours to save a game against Warwickshire less than a fortnight ago.
The consequences of his vigilance may be considerable here too: an advantage of 50 runs could be decisive in this match.
"Paul's effort was brilliant because to come away with 30 out there is like getting 50 or 60 in normal conditions," said Procter. "He held the innings together and people batted round him. Kyle Hogg's still there and we've a chance of building a vital lead."
Nevertheless, when wickets fall with such a clatter, suspicious eyes are directed towards the pitch or the atmosphere, and there was certainly enough in the conditions to encourage Chapple's decision to bowl first on winning the toss.
However, the first four Durham wickets all owed more to batting error than any other factor, with Hogg taking three wickets in six balls, the best of them that of Stokes, who edged a catch to Cross when trying to take the bat away. Will Smith, though, was bowled round his legs and Muchall simply chased a wide one - which he thought he didn't touch. Mark Stoneman had begun the decline by steering Chapple straight to Simon Kerrigan at square leg.
Dale Benkenstein and Paul Collingwood added 44 runs for the fifth wicket - precisely as Procter and Horton did in the late afternoon - but any hopes of prolonged circumspection dissolved when the Zimbabwean edged a slash off Procter to Cross.
That was the start of a remarkable spell for Procter, the Oldham-born medium-fast bowler, who profited from the increasingly heavy atmosphere to take a career-best five for 17. Collingwood was lbw for 25 when half forward to Procter as Mustard's side lost their last four wickets in just 7.3 overs of the afternoon session.
Rain prevented Lancashire beginning their innings for nearly two hours, but if the clouds were higher when the game resumed, the threat of Onions was in no way diminished.
As if attempting to batter his way into the England side regardless of rotation policies or player fatigue, the Durham seamer extracted enough movement from the wicket to persuade both Stephen Moore and Ashwell Prince to give slip catches. Karl Brown was trapped on the crease by one that came back into him and Croft departed having played an ugly slash.
Perhaps the Lancashire batsman was not prepared to wait for the ball "with his name on it", although as Horton could later testify, it doesn't half help if that delivery is a no-ball.