Late strikes rekindle Lancashire's victory push
Derbyshire 370 and 123 for 3 (Slater 58) trail Lancashire 551 (Prince 230, Petersen 113, Lilley 63, Taylor 4-113) by 58 runs
It is so often the little things that make the big differences.
With seven balls to be bowled on the sunlit, if chilly, third evening of this game, Derbyshire's Ben Slater and Chesney Hughes had every reason to be happy with their work. True, their side had conceded a first-innings lead of 181 and skipper Billy Godleman had been caught at second slip by Steven Croft off Tom Bailey for only 7.
But that wicket had fallen at 3.20pm and it was now five to six. For over two hours, 39 overs in fact, the two left-handers had resisted Lancashire's bowlers and had played the spinners, Simon Kerrigan and Arron Lilley, particularly well on a pitch offering increasing turn, spiced with lively bounce.
Slater had completed his fifth half-century in eight Championship innings and Hughes had played with increasing assurance. Neither batsman had been slow to attack the spinners. The score was 119 for 1. Seven nuts to go then….
Lilley bowled to Slater, it was a good ball which bounced and turned but no more so than others had. The opener, however, did not quite cover the full deviation and the ball looped up to Croft, who was crouched close in on the leg side. At last, after two dozen appeals and one or two stares of outraged disappointment at umpires Nick Cook and Rob Bailey, the home side had the breakthrough. The crowd, many of whom had sat in insulated contentment throughout the day, could go home happy.
But wait. Now Kerrigan bowls to Hughes on 41 and the ball is gloved to that man Croft again. Lancashire's fielders engulf their captain as if he has won something. Hughes bends over his bat in the despairing, desolate manner of Rory McIlroy at that Masters. He does so for a long moment and then walks very slowly away from the wicket. Hashim Amla joins nightwatchman Tom Taylor and the pair see things through to the close. Little things, eh…
Lancashire were now favourites to win this game but Amla was still there and this was his last four-day match for Derbyshire. Southport, for all its affluence and all its gentle conservatism, has a tradition of serving up maverick matches and surprising last days. Derbyshire coach Graeme Welch has already talked about the possibility of chiselling out "a cheeky little lead" and then seeing how Lancashire coped on the Trafalgar Road pitch. He was not whistling in the dark. Well, not quite, anyway. This has been a fine game of cricket and it deserves a special climax.
Seven balls to go, though. Would you Adam and Eve it?
For all that they are behind in this game Derbyshire do not deserve to be obliterated by an innings or anything like it. In the first half of this day, they coped with a run-hungry Ashwell Prince, who is, his team-mates say, in his last season for Lancashire. Nicely placed on 156 overnight, Prince proved that he had not fed sufficiently on Godleman's attack by playing a pair of majestic cover drives off successive balls from Tom Taylor.
By then, though, he had lost Alex Davies, whose savage cut off the same bowler only edged the ball to Amla at slip. He palmed it to his neighbour Hughes. Then Jordan Clark made a brisk 39 before being leg before to Wainwright when trying to hoick across the line. Lancashire lunched on 479 for 6 and their lead was 109. This was clearly not enough for a side well aware of the perils of batting fourth here.
So they batted on, deep into the afternoon, the rifle-shots from Prince and Lilley's bats puncturing the hum of talk and the clink of glasses from the corporate hospitality marquees. Prince was already only the fourth man to score a double-hundred in a County Championship match at Trafalgar Road. Other records were within his grasp when, on 230, he pulled a ball from Matthew Critchley to Scott Elstone at straight midwicket.
The last three wickets fell in 20 balls, two of them to Critchley who finished with 3 for 50. They were his maiden successes in first-class cricket. By the time Lancashire were all out their total of 551 was a record for this ground, beating the 523 Warwickshire made in another great game in 1982. Lilley's 63 was a career-best effort.
For his part, though, Critchley may be happy to tell his friends and family how he dismissed Prince, a Test batsman 20 years his senior. Then he may talk about how well Slater and Hughes batted. It may be a while, though, before he discusses those final seven balls.