Smith abandons dashing for blocking
Lancashire 221 for 6 (Cross 57, Smith 86*; Onions 3-26) v Durham
The patience and determination displayed by Tom Smith against Durham will not capture as many headlines as his innings just 24 hours previously, but it may prove more influential to Lancashire's fortunes for the remainder of the season. Scoring a 44-ball hundred in a washed out one-day game was spectacular, but his four-hour championship innings prevented the type of collapse few teams recover from quickly.
Arriving at the crease with Lancashire reeling on 11 for 4 after taking the gamble to bat first in damp conditions, Smith knew how important his innings was in a game Lancashire dare not lose if they are to have a chance of avoiding relegation from Division One. By the time an absorbing first day at Aigburth was over, he had faced 177 balls, hit his highest first-class score since last year and guided Lancashire in sight of a second batting point.
The contrast between the two innings could not have been starker. The pyrotechnics of his century at New Road gave way to a vastly different approach in difficult conditions. Facing Graham Onions, an international class bowler in nearly any other Test-playing nation, in damp conditions that led play to be delayed until after lunch, he had no choice but to choose survival over spectacular.
In the same number of balls in which he reached his hundred on Monday, he had scored 18. When batting was at its most difficult he was content to face 38 deliveries without scoring and allowed Gareth Cross to dominate a 72-run sixth wicket stand.
By the close, however, he had also scored 86 priceless runs, and shared an unbroken 91-run partnership with Kyle Hogg that had shifted the momentum remarkably back in Lancashire's favour.
"When I went out to join Ashwell Prince we said it was one of those days when you had to dig deep," Smith explained. "There were times when you were going to play and miss, which I did a few times during the day, and there were a few rushes of blood to the head, but as the day wore on it got easier to bat as the ball got older.
"Monday was a great day for myself, but it was nice to get some runs in what is a crucial Championship game. You can't really compare the two knocks, but walking out at 11 for 4, it was tough, so that knock is up there with one of my best.
"We showed today we are not just going to let the season go. We want to stay in the First Division so we want to get a positive result here, and one at Middlesex next week, so hopefully going into the last game we will already be safe."
Smith seemed an unlikely hero when play began after a delayed start with Onions setting the tone by knocking back Paul Horton's off-stump when he offered no shot to an in-swinger. By the time Steven Croft was bowled with a full-length ball that kept low, Onions had claimed three wickets in 18 balls and Lancashire, champions just 12 months ago, looked every inch a relegated side.
Their prospects could have been even worse had Ben Stokes, standing at third slip, clung on to a difficult catch after Prince edged Onions with Lancashire standing on 28 for 4.
It was not a costly drop in terms of runs, with Prince adding only 17 more runs to his total before holing out to the deep trying to pull a short ball from Stokes, but importantly he batted for a further 12 overs and allowed the conditions to ease.
It was still far from easy when Cross joined Smith, although the new batsman quickly accelerated past Smith, but as the ball grew older, so the batting conditions eased.
"My game plan is pretty simple - let the bowler bowl at me, anything outside I leave," Smith revealed. "Onions is an international-class bowler and he was at my end for quite a while and didn't give me anything to hit.
"Crossy was scoring at the other so I didn't really have to, it was all about building a partnership. There were one or two shots I played out of frustration, but the speed of the runs didn't really matter."
Even after Cross gave Stokes a second wicket, bowled playing around a straight ball after scoring only his second championship half-century of the summer, Durham were unable to bowl the same menace as the afternoon progressed and Hogg teamed up with Smith and expertly guided Lancashire to the close without further loss.