Lancashire indebted to Anderson
Northamptonshire 133 for 8 (Anderson 5-37) lead Lancashire 119 by 14 runs
Eighteen wickets fell at Wantage Road as Northamptonshire and Lancashire punched themselves to a standstill. These two sides were promoted together last year and began this round of the new Championship nestled alongside each other at the bottom of Division One. Once again, there was not much between them and, on the evidence of some desultory batting, both may have to get used to being on the ropes this season.
That Northamptonshire took a slender lead was down to the tenacity of Matthew Spriegel whose unbeaten 43 was the highest score of the day. After Stephen Peters had won the toss, his seam attack bundled out the visitors in less than two sessions before James Anderson's 5 for 37 ensured the visitors remained in the contest. More surprising was the fact that Lancashire were also indebted to Anderson for his efforts with the bat.
Lord Mancroft's famous aphorism about the English having invented cricket to "give themselves some conception of eternity" was turned on its head. Batsmen instead seemed intent on offering the crowd an object lesson in brevity. In physics, the shortest measurable unit of time is known as a Planck. As 15 wickets went down before 4.30pm, it seemed as if the teams were trying to re-establish the fashion for Plancking, though rather than lying prone in public places this version involved getting back to the dressing room as quickly as possible to stare at the ceiling in private.
Lancashire's scorecard appeared as if it had been inverted, with No. 11 Anderson's 28 the top score. There was appreciable swing under frowning skies and enough assistance from the pitch to further fray the nerves of two fragile batting line-ups. When the sun did come out during the evening session, it was the cue for Spriegel and Ben Duckett to put on the most substantial partnership of the day. Their stand of 57 spanned 20.5 overs - more than twice as long as the next best - and helped Northamptonshire to eke out an advantage.
When Glen Chapple took his second wicket in the second over after tea, Northamptonshire were precariously placed at 35 for 5. Chapple himself had come in with Lancashire 33 for 6 before playing a bustling innings of 26, the captain now doubly responsible for rallying his side in his first match as coach, after the departure of Peter Moores. Even after a career as long and eventful as his, this was quite a start to life as the gaffer.
"I think in the end, we've done really well to be somewhere near level with them," Chapple said. "I think if we're honest, it was a really bad toss to lose. It was damp this morning, and I've not seen a pitch seam around as much as that for a long time. Whilst we've got to be honest with ourselves and say we would always like to score more heavily, it was decking around and really difficult for batting up until about 4pm.
"I genuinely haven't seen a pitch do that much for quite a while. They've had a bit of rain down here. Their pitches tend to be flat in general, and tomorrow could be a different story. It's made for an entertaining day's cricket, and the big thing is we're still in the game."
For the faithful who did choose to spend Sunday at worship, it was an occasion to take a pew with the thermos under one arm and a spirit, holy or otherwise, in the hip flask. With a bank of grey clouds parked above the ground, one Northamptonshire member was vocally pessimistic about the chances of play. His face, in keeping with the skies, may have brightened a touch by the end of the day.
Chapple would not have been surprised to be asked to bat, with the light so poor that play was interrupted after less than four overs and the delay extended to around half an hour by light drizzle. When the teams came back on, Lancashire's batsmen continued to grope unavailingly in the gloom. Olly Stone and Azharullah initially did not force the batsmen to play enough but Lancashire's openers dug in so doggedly they were soon stuck a hole that would take some escaping.
Paul Horton lasted 22 balls for his duck, though he was outdone for excruciating crease occupation by Andrea Agathangelou, who was dropped at slip from his 29th ball, picking up a single to get off the mark, and then played on to his 30th. Luis Reece could at least console himself with the knowledge that he received a very good delivery from Stone, one that swung in and then seamed away to knock out off stump.
Luke Procter was first man into double figures with a driven four - possibly the first runs scored in front of the wicket - off Andrew Hall in the 28th over. His partnership with Chapple was worth 29 and the lower order lifted Lancashire clear of total ignominy, though it required the highest partnership of the innings, 39 of 32 balls from the last-wicket pair of Anderson and Simon Kerrigan, to do so. Anderson smacked Steven Crook through the covers and Azharullah down the ground with the fury of a man who was not best impressed by what had gone before.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick