Croft gives Warwickshire a scare
Lancashire286 (Davies 59, Smith 50, Patel 4-64) and 322 for 7 dec (Croft 104*, Rankin 3-39, Patel 3-116) drew with Warwickshire322 (Ambrose 62, Porterfield 57, Clarke 56, Smith 3-60, Hogg 3-56) and 86 for 5 (Croft 3-25)
Skippers from another age - one thinks of Stuart Surridge or Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie - tended to regard draws either as a last resort or a personal defeat. In the latter case, their teams may not have lost but their own captaincy skills had been found wanting.
Such an attitude is rarely to be found in today's county cricket, fine as much of it is. This is a deeply pragmatic age, and with five points awarded for a draw, the cautious approach is also the business-like option. Somewhat bizarrely - this is early June, after all - Lancashire reached the halfway point of their County Championship season at the conclusion of this drawn game against Warwickshire and Glen Chapple clearly felt that that the final afternoon was too soon to employ such wanton fripperies as a remotely sporting declaration.
Indeed, one felt that the Lancashire captain would rather have taken up a second career as a fan dancer than given Varun Chopra's men much of a chance of winning this game. When Chapple did finally declare, soon after Steven Croft had reached his first century for over a year, Warwickshire were left needing to score 287 runs at a rate of 7.36 runs per overs. The scoring rates in the previous three innings of the game had been 2.68, 2.60 and 3.92. To quote the Shangri-Las: "You get the picture? (Yes, we see)."
Chapple might now be regretting not giving his spinners more time to befuddle the out of form Warwickshire batsmen. After William Porterfield had been run out for 20 in the 12th over when Chopra turned down a second run to midwicket, Croft completed a day he will remember fondly by removing both the Warwickshire captain and Laurie Evans for whom good form must currently seem like a condition other cricketers experience.
Moreover, when Sam Hain was lbw for nought, playing no shot to Croft in only his fourth first-class innings, there were still over nine overs to be bowled. Tim Ambrose then strode out like a young P.E. master intent on sorting out shenanigans in the playground. Sadly, he reckoned without the classic slow left-arm delivery from Kerrigan which clipped the top of his off stump, and it was left to Rikki Clarke and the imperturbable Ateeq Javid to secure an unexpectedly nervy draw with 12 minutes remaining
Chapple's position on the declaration was still defensible. This game was played a slow wicket - the pitch was more suited to a five-day game, if anything - on which it had seemed difficult to take wickets in clumps, yet on which Croft had managed a century in 114 balls. The nine points Lancashire took from this game moved them two above Durham, whom they meet at the Riverside on Sunday. In eleven days' time Lancashire host Northamptonshire at Old Trafford. There are still plenty of winning opportunities left in the season. That, at any rate, is the argument.
What was certainly more encouraging for Lancashire supporters was the way in which some of their side's batsmen coped with bowlers of the quality of Boyd Rankin and Jeetan Patel. Although Andrea Agathangelou perished when trying to hit the offspinner over the top in the fourth over of the morning and Ashwell Prince was also stumped when coming down the wicket and trying to defend, those successes were separated by 22 overs. That period included only the dismissal of nightwatchman Kerrigan brilliantly caught one-handed high to his right by second slip Porterfield off Rankin.
And while Prince, who possesses forearms like floodlight pylons, was punching Keith Barker down the ground and through the covers to make 36, Croft was employing judicious aggression of his own and settling into an innings which has re-established his place in Lancashire's middle-order wherever Usman Khawaja bats against Durham. Having reached a 55-ball half-century with a cut off Chris Wright, Croft received the congratulations of his captain in the middle when he got to three figures. The declaration followed soon afterwards.
And for all that Jos Buttler had nicked Clarke to Ambrose and Tom Smith had been bowled off the inside edge by Rankin, Lancashire will be justifiably pleased to have reached 300 for only the third time this season. At least they can argue that they toughed this game out in difficult circumstances. Whether toughing it out will be enough to enable them to prosper in Division One is another matter.