Croft's fielding brilliance sets up Lancashire's dominance
Lancashire 157 for 1 lead Hampshire 109 by 48 runs
Even when they won the County Championship in 2011 Lancashire did not enjoy days of dominance quite like this.
For on a warm spring Sunday at Emirates Old Trafford, with the sun glinting invitingly off the piles of rubble and industrial aggregate at the Pavilion End, Steven Croft's bowlers spent the first session and a half of this game dismissing Hampshire for a plainly inadequate 109 and the next three hours or so building a 48-run lead. If Lancashire's top order make similar progress on the second day of this game, Hampshire will need to bat extremely well for over four sessions to escape with a draw.
At the root of this excellent day for Lancashire was the performance of a four-man pace attack which never ceased its interrogation of the Hampshire batsmen's techniques. That process began as early as the first over when it was immediately clear that this Manchester pitch would offer James Anderson more pace and bounce than is the norm. In the seventh over Anderson enjoyed his first success when Jimmy Adams was caught by Karl Brown at third slip off the shoulder of the bat. The tone was set, the battle joined.
That wicket, of course, brought Hampshire's captain to the crease and it turned the attention of some spectators to James Vince-watch, the sub-plot of this day's sport. Both the England coach, Trevor Bayliss, and the national selector, James Whitaker, were at this game to see Vince bat before they sit down to pick the side to play Sri Lanka at Headingley As it turned out, the subject of their gaze offered little evidence as to what sort of form he was in before being run out for nought by fielding which would have a place of honour in any game of international cricket.
True, Vince played and missed on three occasions to Anderson but such indignities have been visited on the best players in the world over the last decade. Then he played a ball from Kyle Jarvis past the bowler and called Michael Carberry for a single without realising that Croft was already sprinting across from mid-on to do the fielding. Croft stopped the ball with his left hand, transferred it into his right and threw down the stumps when still on the ground with Vince short of safety. It may not - indeed, should not - be a pivotal moment in Vince's career but it was certainly vital in the development of this day's cricket. It left Hampshire on 14 for 2 after nearly 40 minutes' play.
By lunch the visitors had added just 43 more runs for the loss of three further wickets. Neil Wagner, who is looking like one of the signings of the summer, had found Carberry's edge with first ball of his fourth over and pinned Liam Dawson lbw with a fast toe-seeking yorker with the second.
And good sides do, indeed, make their own luck. Luke Procter, who seems to have been resurrected by Ashley Giles as a first team allrounder, had Will Smith caught down the leg side by Alex Davies for 18 in the over before the interval.
Already it seemed that taking the innings towards the outskirts of respectability would require a colossal effort by the later Hampshire batsmen. But Lancashire's bowlers did not permit any recovery to be mounted. Instead, within half an hour of the resumption, a diving catch by Croft at mid-off removed Ryan McLaren for 4 and Gareth Andrew had edged Jarvis to Davies.
Tino Best clubbed 11 without ever threatening any of the heroics upon which his fame is based. This is not surprising really, given that while the windows at Old Trafford sprawl across postcodes, they are fairly distant and other targets are less inviting. "Mind the pile of gravel, Tino" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.
Hampshire's resistance, such as it was, lay in the hands of Adam Wheater, who faced 64 balls in 103 minutes for his 32 runs before becoming one of two batsmen to play on to Procter in the closing stages of the innings. In Wheater's case his annoyance at his dismissal was such that he nearly wiped out the stumps "big style" with a furious swish of his bat. This would have been a shame as it would have added disciplinary insult to cricketing injury. And those sufferings were soon shared among all his team-mates as Procter finished the innings with 3 for 14 and Anderson with 3 for 42.
After Lancashire's attack had shown how to bowl on this wicket, the batsmen, three of them anyway, gave a demonstration of how to play a few shots on it. Brown hit eight boundaries in 40 before he was lbw playing across Andrew's first ball for Hampshire but that was the last success Hampshire were to enjoy. Tea was taken with the home side's score on 66 for 1 and now that perambulation is permitted on the Old Trafford outfield, several spectators took the opportunity to have a stroll. So warm was the weather that some males even opted for shorts. Thus there were many bare legs, most of them very pale, few of them comely. They certainly deterred one from having veal for supper.
In the play after tea Procter and Haseeb Hameed extended their partnership to 104 without looking in the slightest trouble. Hameed is coltish, lithe and classical. One suspects we will all hear a lot more of him. On the other hand, Procter's crouching stance with his legs splayed and the rakishly angled bat tapping somewhere on or outside off stump is not unlike the posture urged on Private Godfrey by Captain Mainwaring in the Dad's Army episode "The Test".
Fortunately Procter puts the position to rather better use than the Home Guard veteran, albeit that the latter hit a six against the ARP team. By the close the Lancashire batsman had moved the lead to 48 and Procter, like Hameed, now has a marvellous opportunity to bat for a very long time. By doing so, they will deepen Hampshire's woe and take their side towards a second Division One victory in a season when wins may be at a premium.