Horton at heart of solid Lancashire day
Lancashire 256 for 5 (Horton 114, Prince 58*) trail Durham340 (MacLeod 84, Hastings 83, Smith 5-45, Kerrigan 4-86) by 88 runs
Apart from their June hog-feast of an innings against Northamptonshire, Lancashire's batsmen have had a thin time this season. Until their form recovered a little in midsummer, a total above 300 seemed as distant as a summit in the Karakoram. This, therefore, was the sort of day their supporters have had little chance to enjoy although it was no surprise at all that a Paul Horton hundred was at the heart of the home side's determined 256 for 5 on a curiously involving day at Old Trafford.
Horton's 114, his second century against Durham and the 20th of his first-class career, helped Lancashire end the day only 88 runs behind the visitors. Indeed, both sides have batted respectably on a wicket that was being scrutinised by Pitch Liaison Officer Tony Pigott early on Saturday morning. But no one is taking any bets on the Test Match track behaving reliably on its seventh day of use, so Lancashire's hopes seem to rest on Ashwell Prince and the tail building a substantial first-innings lead.
Frankly, though, any recovery by Lancashire's batsmen, perhaps backed up by their bowlers on that wearing last day pitch, could scarcely be better timed. The rows of street vendors festooned with football scarves for sale and the vans selling gourmet burgers - surely a form of cannibalism? - spoke eloquently on Saturday morning of many varieties of greed, not least that displayed by a sport whose season scarcely ends. There may be a fair chunk of domestic cricket left to us, but summer is gently passing and the chill Mancunian breeze contrasted sharply with the warmth enjoyed only a week ago by crowds at the Test match.
More to the point, Lancashire have three Championship games left after this current match ends on Monday, and reliable top order batting will be key to their chances in September. So it was heartening for the muffled-up spectators in front of the pavilion to see the groundwork for their reply done in part by opener Luis Reece, whose 12 Championship innings yielded a mere 123 runs prior to this game.
In such a context Reece's 36 in 184 minutes was a major innings, not least because he batted for almost twice as long as he had managed in any of his dozen previous efforts. Utterly unflustered by the sight of Horton accumulating boundaries and thus outscoring him by nearly three to one, the 24-year-old occupied the crease quite correctly and certainly very stubbornly.
When he was caught at slip off Borthwick, Paul Collingwood diving forward at slip to complete the snare off bat and pad, Reece had helped put on 138, a first-wicket record for his county against Durham. More significantly he had occupied the crease in a manner that seemed quite beyond him on the fresh green wickets of an English spring.
In the next over the dry pitch of a late summer, added to Borthwick's loop, proved too much for Usman Khawaja, the Australian giving a return catch after adding only a couple to the total. But Ashwell Prince partnered Horton to tea, by which time the opener had reached his century with his twelfth four, a square drive off Stokes prompting the almost statutory arms aloft and badge-kissing routine. Well, a man who has made a fine century can celebrate exactly how he chooses.
Five overs into the evening session Horton was lbw to Chris Rushworth, the ball nipping back off the seam, although it would have been no shock had Steve Gale decided that it was going down the leg side. Steven Croft then battled away in characteristically doughty fashion to make 6 in half an hour before leaving a ball from John Hastings that uprooted his off stump.
Late in the session the wind strengthened and you could have mistaken the season for autumn. But this seemed only to stiffen the resolve of Lancashire's No. 6 Alex Davies, who is already a tough little bantam of a cricketer in the tradition of George Duckworth and Warren Hegg. So it was almost a surprise when the wicketkeeper-batsman was dismissed for 25 just ten minutes before the close, gloving a lifter from Ben Stokes to Calum MacLeod in the gully.
By then Collingwood had taken the new ball and the skipper may have been quietly satisfied with the efforts of an attack which had been deprived of anything but two overs from offspinner Ryan Buckley, one of several Durham cricketers currently suffering from a virus. Borthwick, though, remained fit for service and his 36 overs on Saturday are the second most he has bowled in an innings. He will bowl more on Sunday, as no doubt will Lancashire's Simon Kerrigan. The duel of the spinners should be central to the result of the match.