Smith, Davies provide Lancs grit
Lancashire 188 for 6 (Davies 59, Patel 3-52) v Warwickshire
As well as being a fine cricketer, Tom Smith has one of the most pleasant dispositions on the county circuit. One imagines that his analysis of mischievous German dictators would mention any kindness shown to errant pets. So when Smith recently described his team-mate Alex Davies as "a midget" who was "horrible to bowl at", it was viewed as an appraisal of quite Housmanish ferocity.
Predictably, of course, Old Trafford's Mr Nice Guy was quick to explain his judgement and wreathe it with qualifications. For his part, Davies need only glance at the averages to understand Smith's value to Lancashire this season and both men played important roles in helping their side grind its way towards the barest respectability imaginable on the first day of the match against Warwickshire at Edgbaston.
In the first half of proceedings Davies made his second half-century in three Championship innings since being promoted to open the batting against Somerset last week; in the second half of a rain-shortened day, Smith, who less than 48 hours previously had thrashed the equal-quickest T20 fifty in his county's history, placed his nose so closely to the grindstone that he scored off just nine of the 107 balls he faced. When rain thundered down like the judgement of Jehovah at 5.10pm, Smith had toughed his way to 21 not out and 16 of those had come in boundaries.
Lancashire's self-denial was justified on two counts: firstly, the majority of their batsmen are in no sort of form and fluent shot-making in four-day cricket is a distant aspiration; secondly, Warwickshire's bowlers, admittedly encouraged by the restraint of their opponents, displayed accuracy and perseverance on a slow pitch. Thus were Midland boots kept boots on Lancastrian necks.
No member of Varun Chopra's attack performed better than Jeetan Patel, who had Andrea Agathangelou caught at slip for 31 in the over before lunch and then claimed the key wicket of Ashwell Prince half an hour after the first interval when the South African turned him into the safe hands of William Porterfield at leg slip. Less than 20 minutes later the New Zealand offspinner collected his third wicket when he turned one enough to bowl Davies through the gate for 59 and leave Lancashire stuck in the familiar mediocrity of 125 for 4.
In April Patel turned down his country's invitation to tour the West Indies, instead preferring to seek a long-term contract with Warwickshire. On the day when the first Test began at Kingston his county colleagues must have been grateful indeed that he had made that decision, not least because he had removed Davies, who seems sure to irritate less benevolent cricketers than Smith with his tight defence and quickness in whipping the ball through the on side.
The other problem for Chopra's bowlers was that they had to adjust their length when faced with an opener who stands 5ft 8in in his socks. Most of them managed to accomplish this task but not until the batsman had milked them for nine boundaries. Moreover, the sight of the 6ft 7in Boyd Rankin steaming in to Davies reminded one rather of a Staff v Boys match, with a young Physics master hurling them down at an uppity fourth former who had just made his debut for the First XI.
Nor did the departure of Davies end Lancashire's doughty resistance. Although Jos Buttler made none whatsoever in nine deliveries, instead limply edging Chris Wright to Tim Ambrose, Steven Croft then batted against type to make 30 off 100 balls and add 49 in 28 overs with Smith. Eleven runs were added in 12.3 overs after tea as the cricket developed into the sort of mental and physical battle that makes the four-day game endlessly intriguing.
Croft eventually succumbed when he inside-edged Rikki Clarke on to his pad and the bowler himself raced forward to complete a good diving catch almost at the batsmen's feet. Once the umpires had confirmed the dismissal, Croft marched off, probably hoping he had made it clear that he has no intention of being dropped for Usman Khawaja next week.
Nine overs later the heavens opened and Edgbaston tractor-drivers competed like Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to get the covers on as fast as possible. Back in the home dressing room Chopra and his players probably thought they had done pretty well; across the way, Lancashire's batsmen may have been slightly satisfied, too, no one more so than the genially obdurate Tom Smith.