Prince, Croft provide rare run glut
Lancashire 384 for 4 (Prince 161*, Croft 156) v Northamptonshire
It would have been easy to bill this encounter as a match between the sides who couldn't shoot straight. Northamptonshire arrived at Old Trafford on Sunday morning having won none of their seven Division One games while Lancashire's sole triumph in nine attempts this season was achieved at Wantage Road in late April.
Yet such a harsh judgement rather overlooks the spate of serious injuries which have bedevilled Northants' attempts to cope with first division cricket and it also underestimates the tough cricket produced by Lancashire in three of their last four Championship games. But no amount of Palatinate resilience at Headingley or Edgbaston could have prepared home supporters for the glorious glut of runs they witnessed on the first day of this game.
That Northamptonshire's attack is capable of making early breakthroughs was shown early on when Stephen Peters' bowlers made good use of a little morning moisture in the pitch to take three wickets for 33 runs inside the first 13 overs. Sadly for the steadfast supporters back in Evenley and Easton Maudit, that was comfortably as good as it got for the visitors. Most of the remainder of this cloudless midsummer Sunday was taken up by Ashwell Prince and Steven Croft sharing in a monstrous fourth-wicket stand of 332 in 75.5 overs. Northamptonshire's cricketers have suffered various maulings already this summer but few can have been more brutal than this.
As the Lancashire pair tightened their grip on the day's play, the pace of the cricket seemed to increase. Personal and team records approached and were passed rather as motorway intersections might to a speed-crazed Ferrari driver. Statisticians at Old Trafford, whether professional or amateur, texted and tweeted in ecstasies of factual realisation. The rest of the spectators, some of them almost conditioned to hesitancy and under-achievement this summer, scarcely believed what they were watching.
They might, therefore, need a little reassurance that Prince and Croft's partnership was, indeed, the highest fourth-wicket stand at Old Trafford and the third-highest for any wicket at the great old ground. It was also Lancashire's highest partnership for any wicket against Northamptonshire and the county's biggest stand since 2003. By the time Croft's tired push at Andrew Hall only edged the ball to James Middlebrook at slip seven overs before close of play, the record-buffs were glancing happily at Graham Lloyd and Steven Titchard's all-time record fourth-wicket stand of 358. They were even wondering about the 371 added by Frank Watson and Ernest Tyldesley for the second wicket at The Oval in 1928, for that is the highest partnership in Lancashire's history.
Instead they had to be satisfied to stand and salute Croft's career-best 156 in 242 balls, the allrounder's second century in four Division One innings and an effort filled with increasingly dominant strokeplay. Less than half an hour later the Old Trafford crowd stood again when Prince returned to the pavilion unbeaten on 161, having hit 17 fours and three sixes. At times the South African's treatment of Middlebrook and others bordered on the contemptuous. And as they made their way from the ground, home supporters were further comforted by the fact that Lancashire need 16 runs in 14 overs to take five batting bonus points for the first time this season. Who'd have thought it?
As for Northamptonshire's bowlers, they can console themselves with the three wickets they took in the first hour of play when the ball was hard and the wicket still a little moist. Former Lancashire allrounder Steven Crook removed both Alex Davies and Paul Horton cheaply, the former being lbw for the fourth time in six innings. From the Pavilion End, Azharullah brought the ball back into Usman Khawaja and the Australian was given out for a single by the former Old Trafford favourite Graham Lloyd.
But that brought the suffering to a very early end for Red Rose zealots; the trials of Northamptonshire's bowlers were just beginning and perhaps few of Peters' team will have a more uncomfortable evening than wicketkeeper Ben Duckett, who dropped Croft on 34 when an edge off Azharullah eluded his grasp.
"Given that we had two spinners in the side we'd have liked to have won the toss, but we started nicely and brightly," Northants skipper Stephen Peters said.
"We were probably only one wicket away from winning the session at lunch but after that Prince and Croft played very well and it was one-way traffic. We dropped a catch but then those two guys ground us into the dirt all afternoon I'm afraid."