Lancashire v Northamptonshire, Old Trafford, 2nd day June 23, 2014

Day for a dark room for Northants

Northamptonshire113 for 7 (Levi 59, Chapple 4-42) trail Lancashire 650 for 6 dec.(Prince 257*, Croft 156, Buttler 87, Smith 79) by 547 runs


There are worse ways to think about an anniversary than by burrowing through the record books. Lancashire are celebrating their sesquicentennial this year and the second day of the game against Northamptonshire offered many and various opportunities for such indulgence. So mighty were the records eclipsed that one or two Opta statisticians may need a day or two's rest in a darkened room at the end of this match. Northamptonshire's players and supporters might require similar care, although that is not quite certain yet.

What is beyond serious doubt is that Stephen Peters' batsmen will have to perform far better on the final two days of this game if they are to avoid the type of eviscerating defeat that can shatter a side's morale. Replying to Lancashire's 650 for 6 declared, the eighth-highest total in the county's history and their fourth-highest at Old Trafford, Northamptonshire lost both openers for ducks in the first three overs as Glen Chapple capitalised on the mental disintegration which often afflicts players who have spent nine hours in the field. The contrast between the visitors' display and the iron will almost brandished by Lancashire's Ashwell Prince in his 500-minute 257 not out was very sharp.

All the same, Northants captain Peters surely deserved kinder treatment than to fall to Usman Khawaja's brilliant one-handed catch in the gully off the third ball of the innings; then again, James Middlebrook's shot, which edged a catch to slip, was not consonant with the responsibilities of an opener and some of the later batting was similarly insufficient: Matt Spriegel gave a bat and pad catch to Jos Buttler off Simon Kerrigan when attempting a sweep square of the wicket; Rob Newton chopped Tom Smith onto his stumps; and Ben Duckett limply edged the same bowler to second slip Prince for a second-ball duck.

It may be hard not to feel a little sorry for Northamptonshire at the moment, so cruel have the fates been to them this summer; but their cricketers will not welcome such pity: sympathy does not help anyone avoid relegation.

The only comfort for visiting supporters was provided late in the day when Richard Levi reached his half-century and added 44 for the sixth wicket with the similarly resilient Andrew Hall. Even then, Lancashire had the last word when Chapple removed both Levi and David Willey, both batsmen falling to short leg catches by Alex Davies as the 40-year-old skipper gathered his strength and extracted maximum lift from the Old Trafford pitch.

Yet for all that the prospect of another heavy defeat is clouding what is becoming a grim summer at Wantage Road, maybe the most significant incident of the second day occurred five balls before the end of Lancashire's 554-minute innings, when Prince leg glanced Hall to the boundary, thus reaching a career-best score of 256 not out.

The South African had added another single to his tally when Chapple declared but his leap of joy at establishing a new personal best was heartening to see. Prince announced in March that this would be his last season, yet the fires of achievement still burn hot within him. "A shilling life will give you all the facts," wrote W H Auden in Who's Who , and so they did yesterday, as Prince's previous high scores were passed; yet one of Auden's themes is that the most significant factors in a life often lie beyond the biographer's scope.

A lot has changed for cricketers of colour in South Africa since an 18-year-old Prince made his first-class debut for Eastern Province B against Griqualand West in October 1995. It is fair to wonder how many young players have been inspired by his distinguished example, his grooved technique, his indomitable will.

Lancashire have certainly been grateful for Prince's service during his spells at Old Trafford and his innings on the second morning revealed his unsleeping awareness of his side's needs. As the total passed beyond 400, the 37-year-old was content to support Buttler, who advanced from 37 to 87 in just 22 balls with a display of T20-style clean hitting which probably heartened the watching National Selector James Whitaker.

In his pomp Buttler hit three sixes over long-off and long-on in four balls from Graeme White and Spriegel. He then unveiled two varieties of reverse-sweep, each of them very effective. Heavens, this was hard pounding under blue skies for Peters' cricketers.

Lancashire's fourth-wicket pair had extended their stand to 138 in 24.1 overs before Buttler edged Hall to Duckett who took a good catch standing up to the stumps. But Northamptonshire's many torments were not ended. Rather, they ended a final phase as Smith biffed a 101-ball 79 and put on a further 140 runs with Prince.

And so we moved from one form of beating to another and the strange sight of two No. 21s called Newton batting for Northants. One of them was the real Rob Newton, the other was Levi, who is wearing his colleague's kit in this match. This cricketing curiosity may have confused a few people but it made no difference at all to anything else. Northamptonshire may seem to possess two Newtons at the moment but the force is not with them.