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June 29, 2014
Lancashire 221 for 6 (Horton 140) v Somerset
It wasn't chanceless and, for the most part, it owed more to hard graft than carefree strokeplay. But Paul Horton's first century of the Championship season could hardly have been better timed, or of greater value, for a Lancashire side fighting for their Division One lives.
Given that overhead conditions allied to a dry and previously used pitch offered swing and seam bowlers something all day - as well as yielding encouraging bounce, plus a bit of turn, when George Dockrell got to work - judgement on who holds the balance of power might best be left until after both sides have batted once.
What can be stated with a fair degree of confidence, though, is that Lancashire would have been in a real pickle by now but for Horton. And it is also reasonable to say that the opener needed these runs every bit as much as his county, having totalled just 90 from his previous eight Championship innings.
When Horton finally fell to the second new ball, he had scored 140 of his side's 219 for 6 (which is near as two thirds of the runs) and been responsible for 21 of their 24 fours. True, Jos Buttler drove a couple of sixes on his return to Somerset but, like all batsmen bar one, he fell the wrong side of 20.
Horton so nearly made it through to stumps unbeaten and was clearly pained to fall lbw with four overs remaining. By then he had batted for six-and-a-quarter hours and was enjoying his most productive spell at the crease, having scored 40 runs from 47 balls after raising his bat for the hundred. Still, it added up to a day's work to cherish.
"I was averaging under 30 this year and it's things like that which drive me on," the 31-year-old said. "I haven't done my job well enough for the first 10 games - I get paid to score runs for Lancashire. So it's a special moment when you make a hundred."
Glen Chapple's decision to bat first was reasonable enough, even though the surface had more than a tinge of green about it when play began 65 minutes late following a morning shower. Batting in the fourth innings could be a real trial, not that it was a walk in the park first up - as a run rate that stayed below two-and-a-half an over for most of the day would suggest.
Having suffered their first defeat of the season when losing to Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge last week, Somerset were buoyed by the return to fitness of both Alfonso Thomas (back) and Lewis Gregory (hamstring) - recoveries that meant new recruit Tim Groenewald was kept waiting for his debut. And but for Horton, they would have had the visitors on the rack by mid-afternoon.
The new ball beat the bat on a fairly regular basis, a couple of edges landed close enough to fielders to spark "did it carry?" debates and it soon became apparent that Lancashire were more likely to take centre stage at nearby Glastonbury tonight than soar to the heights of last week's 650 for 6 declared against Northants.
The first snick that really mattered, though, came when the visitors were already three down and Horton earned four runs for a false shot against Gregory that appeared to brush the fingertips of James Hildreth at first slip as he dived left.
Having just secured a battling half-century, Horton deserved a bit of good fortune. And another slice came his way, on 81, with Hildreth this time getting two hands to a boot-high opportunity off Peter Trego's bowling. But it would be wrong, very wrong, to suggest the opener rode his luck. He defended resolutely time and again, when resolute defence was required, and put away the bad or inviting ball with great certainty. Not that there was too much bad stuff, particularly from Thomas and Gregory who posed difficult questions all day long.
After one day, this is still anyone's match. But already it is a match Horton should remember with great fondness, at least from a personal point of view.
David Lloyd is a former chief cricket correspondent of PA and the Evening StandardFeeds: David Lloyd
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