Prince turns match on its head
Somerset 149 (Hildreth 45, Chapple 3-38, Kerrigan 3-47) and 22 for 1 need 257 more runs to beat Lancashire 185 and 242 (Prince 129)
It may have become tiresome to watch South African batsmen play long, patient and match-winning innings in recent weeks, but Lancashire will hope their own version of old-fashioned style batting may have provided the springboard for one of their most outstanding victories of the summer.
While England followers grew weary of Hashim Amla, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis during the one-sided opening Test at The Oval, Lancastrians will raise a glass in celebration towards Ashwell Prince, their South African overseas batsman, if his stunning century at Aigburth sets up a result that helps avoid relegation.
Shortly before lunch on the third day, Prince was joined by Kyle Hogg with Lancashire facing a defeat that would have underlined relegation as a serious prospect. They were 50 for 6 at the time, leading Somerset by just 86, but by the time he was finally dismissed as Lancashire's last man at 5.46pm he had transformed the game.
Dropped on 6 after offering a sharp return catch at knee height to Alfonso Thomas, Prince played with eye-watering discipline on a slow pitch that made timing of shots difficult. He batted for over five hours and his 129 represented more than half of Lancashire's second innings total, enabling them to set a testing victory total of 279.
Somerset battled through 11 testing overs before the close to reach 22 for 1, but the very fact the match has even reached a final day is through Prince's outstanding innings, although his reaction to the attention was typically pragmatic. "To me it will mean a lot more if we win the game," he said. "I am happy to get us into a good position, but the runs always mean more to a player when you end up winning the match."
Starting the third morning only 36 runs ahead, Lancashire quickly slumped into trouble in a match they can ill afford to lose if they are to maintain their slender lead over the relegation places in Division One. Two run outs did not help their cause, but there were also reckless shots on such a wicket, which was underlined by three Lancashire batsmen playing on trying expansive drives.
Prince offered a different method and was happy to bat time. At one stage he went 29 overs between boundaries and allowed Kyle Hogg, a taller man with greater reach, play more aggressively during a crucial 98-run seventh wicket stand that turned the game. Hogg perished trying to hit Jack Leach, a left-arm spinner on his Championship debut, down the ground, but by then Lancashire's fight back was well set.
Given useful assistance by Glen Chapple and Ajmal Shahzad, Prince only began to accelerate during a 38-run last wicket stand with Simon Kerrigan. He infuriated Thomas with a Dilshan scoop for four, one of nine boundaries in his innings, and then claimed another four with a leg glance off the next ball.
"If you're only batting with tail-enders, you probably want to take a few more chances but I had every confidence in them all," explained Prince. "I knew I didn't have to try and slog every ball, I knew I had some partners that could hang in and that probably suits my game anyway.
"If they win this game it will take a good batting effort in the last innings, but the last thing we would have wanted was to let them have 120 or 150 to win. We've given ourselves a chance, which is all we can ask for."
Prince was last man out, lbw to Peter Trego, and fully deserved his standing ovation from the small crowd and opposition as he left the field. Demoralised by his efforts over the previous five hours, it was little surprise that Somerset lost an early wicket with Chapple winning an lbw decision against Arul Suppiah in the 11 overs available before the close. It has set up a tense final day for both sides as Somerset chase a victory that would keep them in the title race while Lancashire have concerns at the opposite end of Division One.