Battling Davies stifles Old Trafford grumbles
Lancashire 157 for 6 (Smith 45*, Davies 41*, Magoffin 3-31) trail Sussex 276 for 8 (Yardy 132*, Smith 3-69) by 141 runs
Meringues, balsa wood, talcum powder. A variety of metaphors connoting flimsiness have been employed to suggest the frailties of Lancashire's batting in 2014. Ramrods, a gun barrel, bullets. The similes used to explain the virtues of Sussex's bowling for much of this still young season have been equally instructive.
So when Chris Nash's powerful, if hardly irresistible, forces came into contact with the very moveable objects known as Lancashire's batsmen, something approaching cricketing carnage was predicted. So it proved. This game's much-vaunted uncertainty can only do so much, we thought.
But even Werner Heisenberg, who knew a thing or two about uncertainty, might have been pushed to suggest that there was an unlikely quality about Lancashire's collapse to 80 for6 in a mere 34.5 overs.
Even Robert Peston could not have deepened the gloom pervading the Old Trafford pavilion in mid-afternoon on the second day of this game. "It's all right redeveloping the ground," grumbled one member, "What about redeveloping a few of the ruddy players?"
At this point, Tom Smith, who has actually been in vaguely respectable form, was joined by the diminutive wicketkeeper Alex Davies, who was only playing his sixth first-class match because Jos Buttler is with the England squad.
Wile Smith is in decent nick, Davies is a determined little so-and-so in the Lancastrian tradition of George Duckworth and Warren Hegg. And even as the skies darkened around Old Trafford this May Bank Holiday, the pair lifted the mood of the home supporters with a truculent, industrious, unbroken stand of 77 for the seventh wicket. When bad light ended play 21.3 overs early, Smith had passed forty for the fourth time in seven innings and Davies was 41 not out, which is his career-best
Smith measures 6ft 3ins in height, seven inches taller than his partner, and their batting styles reflect the difference. The experienced all-rounder utilises his height to drive the ball in an imperious fashion; Davies prefers cuts, pulls and deliciously timed clips off his hip. Smith is a genial fellow, who smiles a lot and is self-deprecating about his talents; Davies, you sense, likes a fight and relishes the struggle.
Both batsmen displayed a secure defence and, indeed, this was a sine qua non for anyone hoping to resist Nash's bowlers, particularly Steve Magoffin, whose 3 for 31 runs from 17 overs were nothing less than his deserts. The Australian began Lancashire's subsidence when he moved one off the seam and had a blameless Paul Horton brilliantly caught one-handed by second slip Michael Yardy, who dived to his left to complete the snare. Magoffin then had Luis Reece lbw, playing no shot. The rookie opener has scored 62 runs in seven Championship innings and must hope that the rest of May affords him kinder wickets than the green seamers of April.
Lancashire were poorly placed on 32 for 2 at lunch and their decline accelerated in the early afternoon. Magoffin's accuracy was too much for Brown's defensive push and Prince's back foot slash off James Anyon inside-edged the ball to Ben Brown. Prince remains the prize wicket for Lancashire's opponents, although that title does not take much earning at the moment.
Steven Croft was recalled for this game but played down the wrong to his fourth ball and lost his off stump to Anyon. He trudged off, possibly reflecting that scoring 197 off Yorkshire's second team at Northop Hall, a picturesque but small ground in North Wales, is not ideal preparation for playing Divison One cricket.
Lancashire's travails on Monday were completed - although no one thought it so at the time - when Luke Procter misread slow left-armer Ashar Zaidi's length and was lbw on the back foot for 26. Once again, most frustratingly for himself and others, Procter had played himself in, only to get himself out.
The rest of the day belonged to Smith and Davies, who both played outstandingly well against a fine attack. Indeed, Sussex should be in the hunt for the County Championship this summer.
One cannot be so sanguine about Lancashire's prospects. The Old Trafford side's Division One batting woes in 2012 were chronicled in black-bordered detail at the time. This season Lancashire's average partnership going into this game was worth just 21.5 runs. Raising that bar should not be the responsibility of Alex Davies, although there can be little doubt that he would be up for the fight.