Moores' faith vindicated once more
Worcestershire 334 (Moeen 78, Mitchell 74, Andrew 52, Procter 4-58) lead Lancashire 250 for 3 (Horton 66, Procter 53) by 84 runs
For all the criticism he attracted as England coach, Peter Moores tended to get the big selectorial calls right: notably promoting James Anderson and Stuart Broad, and recognising the international potential of Matt Prior, Ryan Sidebottom and Graeme Swann. The evidence of this match so far suggests that he retains that capacity.
Exhibit A is Luke Procter. Having failed to register a single half-century last season, it was a considerable display of faith by Moores to leave Procter as he had ended 2012 - opening the batting. Thanks to a solid technique and good shot selection - one he needed when withstanding Alan Richardson's testing spell last night - Procter reached a well-compiled 53 here. It was a shame when, two balls after reaching his half-century with a pulled six, he fell to Chris Russell off a leading edge to a pull that stopped in the pitch.
Still, Procter had made his point. An easily underrated cricketer, he backed up his 4 for 58 with an assured performance. Lancashire's opening partnership was perhaps their greatest problem last year, but Procter is on his way to solving it. At one point in 2012, Lancashire recorded only one half-century stand in 22 innings. Going back to the last two games of 2012, their opening stand has been worth 50 three of the last four times, with Procter the only constant in this run. It amounted to 97 here, with Paul Horton compiling a chanceless, albeit very slow, 66, until he was dismissed after attempting a quick single and taking too long to change his mind.
Exhibit B is Karl Brown. A 109-ball 34 against Worcestershire may not stand out as a particularly noteworthy innings, but the assuredness he showed leaving the ball outside off-stump bodes well for the rest of the season. It was not spectacular, but it was nevertheless quiet vindication for Moores' faith. After Brown (like Procter) had only averaged 24 last season it would have been easy to move him away from his favoured spot at No 3. As it is, Lancashire have, in Simon Katich and Ashwell Prince, a middle order that should provide an insurance policy against early collapses.
Neither Brown nor Procter were certain starters for this match, with top-order players including Stephen Moore and Tom Smith also in Lancashire's squad. However, Moores backed youth, as he has done throughout his coaching career, and will be content with today's results. Born within two months of each other, Brown and Procter are both 24. For Lancashire's future, it makes sense to entrust them with top-order positions in Division Two, and they will also benefit from batting alongside Katich and Prince.
A day of more rain looked to have ended the prospects of a result in this match. However, the breezy batting of Lancashire's two former Test players, who added 71 in 15.2 overs before the close, keeps victory a possibility: two onside boundaries from Simon Katich in the day's final over, flicking his wrists with his trademark intensity, were indications of intent. If Lancashire can declare ahead on a wicket showing slight glimpses of wear - one ball in the penultimate over notably reared up - Simon Kerrigan's left-arm spin could yet lead a push for victory.
Worcestershire's director of cricket, Steve Rhodes, said "we bowled exceedingly well for 72 overs" but admitted that the bowling attack had "got a little bit sloppy towards the end" as Katich and Prince capitalised. He also defended his wicketkeeper Michael Johnson, who conceded 19 byes in conditions very different to those of his Perth upbringing. Rhodes - a former England keeper himself - said that Johnson "kept really well" in difficult conditions. "You can see how tough being a wicketkeeper in England really is, but his footwork was great today. Some of those balls were just disgusting the way that they moved after passing the bat."