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Alan Gardner at Wantage Road
April 28, 2014
Lancashire 119 and 244 for 5 (Buttler 66*) lead Northamptonshire 164 (Spriegel 62, Anderson 5-48) by 199 runs
Jos Buttler is undoubtedly one of the most talented young players that England can currently call upon and it should therefore come as no surprise to hear he is capable of game-changing innings. That his first significant contribution in a Lancashire shirt came on a seaming track when his side were struggling is more worthy of note.
Buttler's unbeaten 66, replete with thumping drives down the ground and through the covers, would have been eye-catching even if it had come in more favourable circumstances for batting. Given the importance for his team, as well as the counterpunching nature of the innings, it tempted a comparison with Matt Prior, England's Test firefighter for so many years. Buttler will need to increase the volume and frequency of his first-class run-scoring - converting this effort into a fourth hundred would be a good start - but, with Prior's Achilles still troubling him, this was a timely knock.
When Lancashire's fifth wicket fell, with the scoreboard reading 130 for 5, their lead was 85 and Northamptonshire would have been hopeful of starting off in pursuit of a small total before the close. Instead, Buttler and Tom Smith, a couple of vocational surnames if ever there were any, did a thorough job on them, adding 114 in less than 25 overs to carry Lancashire giddily into the ascendency. Northamptonshire would have been wary of chasing anything above 200 but the target is likely to be more daunting still.
The last time Buttler passed fifty in a first-class match was almost a year ago, when he made 85 against Middlesex at Taunton, although his involvement with England has limited his Championship appearances since then. Last season was his most successful in red-ball cricket and he began his Lancashire career by making a battling 42 last week in the drawn game against Warwickshire. On the evidence of the World T20, it is still his keeping that needs polish but Peter Moores, who first picked a rough-and-ready Prior for England and brought Buttler to Lancashire, may already be formulating his stratagems.
As Buttler and Smith became more comfortable, Northamptonshire's composure slipped. After Steven Crook conceded six no-balls and four byes from consecutive deliveries that gave David Murphy little chance behind the stumps, a trenchant call of "Rubbish!" rang out from the members' stand. Smith was later dropped on 31, though it would have been brilliant catch by Kyle Coetzer, and Murphy then missed a leg-side stumping with Buttler overbalancing a few yards out of his crease as the home side unravelled a little further.
Lancashire had been vocal in their complaints about the pitch after the first day, when they were shot out for 119, although it may have involved an element of kidology, after Northamptonshire's criticism of the surface for their game at Old Trafford last year. That fixture finished inside two days but the ECB pitch inspector saw nothing untoward; neither will there be any sanction for Northamptonshire here, after an official visit from Tony Pigott.
The pitch certainly had some moisture in it but conditions eased appreciably, even though the wind blowing in from the east at times felt as if it had come all the way from the Baltic. The partnership that began to warm Lancashire came between Paul Horton and Ashwell Prince and provided some much-needed fibre after they had lost their first two wickets shortly after lunch while still attempting to erase a 45-run first-innings deficit.
In terms of turning things around, it was more horse and carriage than Hackney carriage but they initiated the process of reeling in a game that was trundling steadily away from Lancashire. Azharullah succeeded in breaking Prince's bat handle but his defence was otherwise impenetrable. They were separated only by a piece of misfortune, as a delivery from Andrew Hall deflected on to the stumps off Murphy with Prince out of his crease. That went down as a stumping but there was a run-out to follow, as Horton left Luke Procter stranded in mid-pitch without having faced a ball.
Although the ground was swaddled with grey clouds when Northamptonshire resumed, it took Lancashire over an hour to separate the ninth-wicket stand between Matthew Spriegel and Olly Stone. Spriegel, whose flinty innings was perfectly suited to adversity, progressed to his second half-century in as many matches - and only his third for Northamptonshire since joining at the end of 2012 - before becoming the last man out, well taken by Buttler running back underneath a top edge. Lancashire fans may be beginning to think they have got themselves a keeper.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderickFeeds: Alan Gardner
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