Prince hundred shows value of his u-turn
Lancashire 317 for 5 (Prince 106, Horton 71) v Kent
Any cricketer worthy of his whites is optimistic in April, yet a fresh season still offers a beguiling diversity of challenges to professional players. For Lancashire's Ashwell Prince, though, the first issue to be addressed was whether he even wished to play another English season at a time when his children were about to start school and he has other career options available.
However, having decided last autumn that he would, indeed, have another year at Old Trafford, it was only to be expected that Prince would approach this campaign with the tough determination that has characterised his entire career. This quality was very much in evidence on the opening day of the Division Two match against Kent when Prince's 106 was the bedrock upon which Lancashire's total of 317 for 5 was built.
Yet as Prince watched from the other end on this glorious Sunday he must have been a little disappointed by the softness of some of his colleagues' dismissals, albeit that Kent's bowlers went about their work diligently on what now appears a good pitch. At least three, maybe four, of the wickets to fall owed something to batting error, and for Lancashire supporters this represented an unfortunate echo of last summer when their county's inability to compile substantial first-innings totals was a major factor in their eventual relegation.
The first of these, rather sadly, was that of opener Luis Reece, who having applied himself properly to his task in making 18 in 53 minutes wafted away from his body at a ball from Matt Coles and nicked the ball to second slip where Darren Stevens took a comfortable catch.
Reece now averages precisely eight in County Championship matches played in April, a month in which the difficulties of opening the innings are rarely more apparent. In the other months of the season he has scored 938 runs at 40.70. George Herbert may have written of spring as a season "full of sweet days and roses/ A box where sweets compacted lie", but for Reece April's various confectionery must be exceptionally well concealed at the moment.
The importance of Reece's error was rather magnified next ball when Alviro Petersen edged or gloved the ball to wicketkeeper Sam Billings and Lancashire were 38 for 2. Prince and Paul Horton applied themselves well to ensure that no further wickets fell in the opening session and by lunch Rob Key had introduced offspinner Adam Riley into the attack from where he was to bowl 23 rather impressive overs.
Indeed, it was Riley who was to claim the next wicket but not before Horton had greedily added 38 runs off 34 balls to his lunchtime 33. Then, though, he attempted yet another cut off Riley, who will not be happy to have allowed such freedom previously, and only nicked a catch to Billings. Though we did not know it, the tone for the day's cricket was set. Lancashire batsmen would share reasonably substantial partnerships, only for their errors to bring Kent back into the game. Nearly twenty overs later this pattern was exemplified again when Steven Croft, having batted competently for 37, obligingly hooked Coles straight to long leg where Riley took a good catch. Three card trick? "Look, your shoelace is undone"? Any number of "take the bait" examples must have occurred to the watching spectators.
Fortunately for the blood pressures in the Red Rose Suite, Alex Davies is a most determined little hombre who rarely gives anything away. Along with Prince he added another 75 runs - even the size of the partnerships was being repeated and he was there to congratulate Prince when he reached his century off 157 balls. Prince's methodical accumulation, his ability to tailor his batting to conditions was illustrated by the fact that his innings contained just five fours and two sixes, both of the latter being hit straight off Riley, who must become used to such treatment when he bowls well and pitches the ball up to the bat.
Even Prince, though, was culpable in his own dismissal, albeit that his strong drive to substitute fielder Charlie Hartley at short extra cover at least gave the deserving Mitch Claydon something to take away from his day. It was then left to Davies and Jordan Clark, whose 46th first team game for Lancashire was also his debut at first-class level, to take their team to the close, although not before Davies, on 47, had stood his ground when Sam Northeast and seemingly every other Kent player claimed a catch off Ivan Thomas in the final over.
Davies, one senses, would not walk for a morning paper in which a report of his own double hundred appeared. Captain Key, though, was not pleased and the Kent skipper is skilled at displaying his ire. We may be set for a lively next few days.