Lancashire v Notts, County Championship, Division One, Old Trafford, 3rd day April 19, 2016

Wagner's 11 puts Lancs on short road towards victory

Nottinghamshire 242 and 175 (Wagner 5-45) lead Lancashire 332 (Livingstone 70, Davies 55, Ball 4-63) by 85 runs
Scorecard

Neil Wagner finished with 11 for 111 on his Lancashire debut © Getty Images

There was a point in the second hour of this day's cricket when it was possible to believe that Brendon McCullum had never played the game, that the 20-over format was still an evening entertainment for club thrashers and that IPL was strong ale.

Faced with a first-innings deficit of 90 and, equally significantly, facing bowlers of the quality of James Anderson, Kyle Jarvis and Neil Wagner, Nottinghamshire's openers had little serious option but to block it out. And so they did. At lunch Steven Mullaney had made 15 runs off 82 balls and Greg Smith had garnered 17 off 68. Bowling analyses which had begun as rows of zeros turned into the codes for combination locks. Anderson 6-3-9-0, Jarvis 7-5-4-0. One really did not have to be an apologist for "proper cricket" or a doctrinaire opponent of T20 to appreciate what was "going off out there". Chris Read's batsmen were in the toils and they were taking the long road home. In less than a month this ground will resound to floodlit mayhem. What a game it is, some thought; it can accommodate both that and this.

By close of play, however, it seemed Nottinghamshire will need a fightback fit to grab all of Thursday's headlines if they are to avoid following their win against Surrey with a defeat to Lancashire, for whose players the last nine sessions of cricket have been richly encouraging.

Led by Wagner, whose 5 for 45 gave him match figures of 11 for 111, the best analysis by a Lancashire debutant since Cecil Parkin's 14 for 99 against Leicestershire in 1914, Steven Croft's team dismissed Nottinghamshire for 175 a few overs before the close.

Nottinghamshire's batsmen had tried to grind it out but had instead been ground down themselves by a team whose cricket possessed a rare brio. All six of Chris Read's specialist batsmen had got to double figures but none made more than Smith, who managed 41 in 165 minutes. The long road home had failed them. Unless Stuart Broad finds his best England form, they will have to settle for a quick getaway around lunchtime on Wednesday.

The curious thing is, though, that Old Trafford is a fitting environment in which to examine the obvious dichotomy between T20 and four-day cricket. For the area seems gripped with architectural schizophrenia at the moment. The ground itself is gap-toothed now that the old Lodge has been knocked down and a posh new Hilton is being built. JCB has become as familiar a set of initials as LBW at Old Trafford these past few years.

Further afield the area appears intent on either celebrating its industrial history of wharves and haulage - two giant cables decorate the pavement - or showing how modernity is all. Warehouses offer accommodation, glassed office blocks house technology start-ups and cranes fill the skyline. Manchester United, its metal roof a stupendous praying mantis of girders and struts, drives many developments. They offer rooms nearby at a place called Hotel Football; one wonders how many Armani-wearing consultants it took to dream that name up.

Yes, back to the cricket and an afternoon's sport played in glorious sunshine. The pace quickened a little but it was not until after tea, the 61st over in fact, that Nottinghamshire managed to rattle along at two runs an over. By then, though, they had haemorrhaged four big wickets.

Mullaney lost his off stump to Anderson half an hour or so after the resumption to end a lively exchange between bowler and batsman which, we may assume, will "stay on the field". It had featured Anderson walking backwards to his mark, facing the batsman throughout, presumably in order to maintain a Platonic dialogue; well, they are both former Academy cricketers. "I was just wondering how long it was going to be before he played a shot," said a deadpan Anderson afterwards. "He likes a chat."

Anderson bowled for an hour and a half this Tuesday afternoon and there was little loose stuff in his 11-over spell. Such rectitude often takes wickets for other bowlers and that was the case here, perhaps, as Smith, having laboured for 131 balls, came down the wicket to drive Kerrigan through mid-on but only succeeded in giving a catch off the leading edge to Croft at short cover. Brendan Taylor followed four overs later when he clipped Jarvis's first ball to Liam Livingstone at midwicket and once Michael Lumb had played across an inswinger from Wagner, Lancashire's cricketers could even glimpse a Tuesday finish.

That was not to be but the evening session still offered plenty of joy to the members sitting alfresco in front of the pavilion. Anderson removed Riki Wessels leg before when he played across a straight one and Burnley's finest also polished off the innings on a day when he had pulled his tripes out, as they say up here, for the Red Rose. In between, Wagner, racing in as if a persistent PPI salesman was behind him, took four wickets in 19 balls. He was helped by a fine catch at deep square leg by Livingstone to get rid of Samit Patel and another at short-leg by Hasseb Hameed to remove Broad for just 4. This was a day on which all Lancashire's players did something, and usually, as Julie Andrews cooed, it was something good.

"We knew it would be tough at the start of the day," Anderson said. "But we got a crucial lead and we knew every run would be crucial. The fielders were brilliant too, throwing themselves around trying to save every run, knowing how crucial it was. The pitch is as good as a Test pitch, there hasn't been a huge amount there for the seam bowlers, so if you get in on it you can score runs on it.

"Neil Wagner was fantastic again, he loves playing, he wants to do well for the team and has so much energy on the field. He never turns down the opportunity to have a bowl. He will be great for Crofty all year if he keeps going but he may lose a few inches in height if he keeps bowling on these wickets."

Yes, it was a day for Lancastrian good humour. After the chill conditions of the previous two days, the balmy atmosphere even persuaded some of the members to abandon their fleeces. One or two daring souls even tried pastel shades but one imagines they will be up before the committee on charges of levity. All the same, on the third day of this game it seemed that the season had truly started. "Now is the time," sings the wonderful Nancy Kerr in the song of the same name. "Farewell my old discontent / Just as the heavens consent to burn / And turn cold days to fine."

And you know, if we hold our shovels level and speak when we're spoken to, there will be over five months of this. What larks, eh, Pip? What larks.

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