Horton continues prolific comeback
Lancashire 344 for 4 (Horton 150, Katich 56) v Leicestershire
There must have been times this summer when Paul Horton wondered when he would ever play another Championship match after a lengthy absence with a finger injury. Sidelined for six matches during a key phase in Lancashire's promotion push, he has been prolific since his comeback and may now have played the innings that all but secures their return to Division One.
Having dislocated his right ring finger fielding earlier in the season, Horton, the 30-year-old opener, required surgery to have it pinned back into place only to suffer another setback when he dislocated it again on his return for Lancashire second XI. But frustrating as that spell on the sidelines was, it appears to have given him a new impetus and his unbeaten 150 on the second day against Leicestershire has taken his tally to 362 runs in only six innings.
This current effort, spanning over six hours at the crease and including 22 fours, was his 17th first-class century. Leading the side in the absence of Glen Chapple with hamstring problems, Horton also became the first Lancashire captain to score a century since Stuart Law hit an unbeaten 158 against Sussex at Hove in 2008.
"It's the first time in my career I've really missed any cricket," he said. "I'd played a lot of first-class games in a row for Lancashire since 2007, so to miss cricket was a disappointment for me. It's nice to be back and I just think I'm in a stage where I'm quite happy with the way I'm playing.
"I'm 30 and probably in the best years as a batsman to score my runs, so I'm just finally converting innings into hundreds and that's what it's all about. I've only got a small window of opportunity to score some runs at the back end of the season and I'm making every innings count."
At the start of this round of matches, Lancashire knew they needed 18 points to secure promotion at the first time of asking, but with third-placed Essex dropping points in their match against Kent it has given the Division Two leaders a simple equation - win their current match to achieve their pre-season objective.
It may need some clever and forceful cricket to secure that victory after bad light ended play 16 overs prematurely when the floodlights took over from the natural light, but Lancashire now know they are very close to making amends for last summer's relegation.
A contributory factor in the success this summer has been Horton's flourishing partnership with Luis Reece at the top of the order. Their 137-run stand was their third century partnership in six innings and provided the foundation for a solid Lancashire batting performance, albeit against a Leicestershire side ravaged by injuries and forced to field a line-up with an average age of just 23 with only one player - Niall O'Brien - over 30.
Resuming overnight on 92 without loss after rain washed out all but 21 overs on the opening day, Lancashire's solidity at the top of the order was such that it was almost a surprise when Reece drove seamer Oliver Freckingham to second slip for 50, his seventh successive half-century. His annoyance at a missed opportunity was evident as he sloped off and his mood will not have improved once he is informed he has equalled a County Championship record for the most consecutive 50s without reaching three figures, matching the seven recorded by William Burns for Worcestershire in 1906.
Ashwell Prince would be equally annoyed at missing out against such an attack, prodding Ben Raine to first slip while Simon Katich, playing his last match for Lancashire before disappearing to captain Perth Scorchers in the Champions League T20, appeared in a hurry to catch a plane in racing to 56 off 62 balls before giving left-arm spinner James Sykes a deserved wicket when he was brilliantly caught one-handed at slip by Greg Smith.
Sykes added a second when he found extra turn and bounce from the Pavilion End and induced Andrea Agathangelou into edging behind for a scratchy 46 only five balls before umpires David Millns and George Sharp called a premature halt to the day.