Wasteful Leics run up against Croft again
Lancashire 356 for 9 (Croft 98*, Horton 70) v Leicestershire
Sports fans in Leicester had a good weekend. On Saturday, Leicester City confirmed their survival in the Premier League and Leicester Tigers beat local rivals Northampton to qualify for rugby's Premiership playoffs. So it was perhaps a little too much to ask the county's cricketers to join the upbeat mood of the city and supporters at Grace Road endured a frustrating day where, for the second time in three days, Steven Croft proved a game adversary.
Croft's 70 in 39 balls saw Lancashire to victory in the opening NatWest T20 Blast encounter between these sides on Friday. Here, against the same opposition with a red ball, Croft again lifted his side from trouble to steer Lancashire to a healthy total on a day of tricky batting conditions.
Generous cloud cover, a green-tinged wicket and a temperature warm enough to help the ball swing produced plenty of help for the bowlers and Leicestershire should be disappointed at having missed a chance to dismiss their opponents cheaply. They did not bowl well enough.
From 156 for 5, Lancashire more than doubled the score for the next three wickets, chiefly thanks to Croft who made a dashing fifty in 76 balls before playing carefully with the tail to end the day on the brink of a first century of the season. His sixth-wicket partnership of 73 with Jordan Clark was made at 4.33 runs an over and turned the day towards the visitors in 17 overs before tea. Clark's loose drive ended the stand first ball after the break.
Croft was busier than his coach Ashley Giles, who was pacing around the ground. He took three boundaries in three balls of Ben Raine, all square on the off side despite the presence of a sweeper, and was then squared up to a fuller straighter ball and got a thick edge fine of third man for a couple more to bring up a second half-century of the season. Just before the new ball, he showed his one-day touch by late cutting Tom Wells fine of third man.
In former Leicestershire bowler Nathan Buck, who biffed two fours down the ground off Rob Taylor, he found steady company to add the third fifty partnership of the day, for the eighth wicket. Lancashire have a very handy total indeed.
Ahead of this game Leicestershire's head coach, Andrew McDonald, said his side had to start winning the key moments to turn their competitive start to the season - including a battling response to draw at home to Glamorgan and almost winning at Kent - into something more tangible. The first morning here, with a swinging new ball, could be considered such an event. That Leicestershire only had two wickets by lunch would be concluded as defeat.
But success was within their grasp. Quite literally. Three catches were dropped in the first session, all at first slip. Raine was the unlucky bowler all three times. Mark Cosgrove, Leicestershire's captain, put down a sitter that should have removed Paul Horton for 20. Cosgrove then replaced himself with Taylor, only for Taylor to shell just as easy a chance from Ashwell Prince, and another tougher chance by his left shoulder from Prince again.
Taylor completed his hat-trick by missing his most difficult chance, low to his left with one hand, as Charlie Shreck took the second new ball in the gloaming. At least Leicestershire took full bowling bonus points just before the close.
They nibbled the ball around all day but without the consistency to put their visitors under consistent pressure. It was perhaps indicative of their attack's inexperience. And perhaps its modest pace too. The new ball swung and seamed - one from Clint McKay nibbled down the slope plumb into Clark's box and sent him crawling painfully towards square square leg.
McKay took the opening wicket, in the 13th over, as Karl Brown edged a drive behind, but the bowling was thereafter a little short and the second breakthrough only came when Alviro Petersen - one of three Kolpaks in the Lancashire side with Test match experience - played a very weak dab just outside off to also nick to the keeper. One of the better balls of the day, an inswinger from Shreck, trapped Prince lbw and Taylor, the left-armer, moved one back into Tom Bailey who played on.
Alex Winter is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo He tweets here