Horton and Sutcliffe give Lancashire the edge
Lancashire 260 for 5 (Horton 64, du Plessis 55, Sutcliffe 50, Croft 60*) v Nottinghamshire
Lancashire perhaps had slightly the better of a bread-and-butter opening day at Old Trafford, thanks to a determined and invaluable opening partnership of 109 between Paul Horton and Iain Sutcliffe when conditions were the most testing. They did not quite build as they might have done on such a good foundation, with three batsmen getting out after scoring good fifties, but a fourth in Steven Croft is still there, and his team will be looking for him to play the leading role in building a daunting total tomorrow.
Lancashire won a toss they might have preferred to lose, given that swing was likely under an overcast sky. The pitch itself played soundly enough on the whole, giving some help to the bowlers, even Graeme Swann's offspin on the first day, but not enough to interest the ECB pitch inspector, Mike Denness, who arrived by train from his home in Essex, after the previous championship match on this ground, against Durham, had finished before lunch on the third day.
A minor curiosity in this match is that the two captains are both wicketkeepers: Chris Read, the official captain of Nottinghamshire, and Luke Sutton, standing in for the injured Lancashire skipper Stuart Law. The ball did indeed swing copiously at times, especially early on and especially when the medium-pacer Mark Ealham was using it. Ealham came into the action early on, as Charlie Shreck had difficulty finding his line from the Brian Statham End, although later he came back with better results from the Stretford End.
The Lancashire openers, Horton and Sutcliffe, did a superb job for their team as they saw off the difficult overs with the shine still on the ball, and survived until after lunch in their team's first century opening stand of the season in any competition. Inevitably there were a few plays-and-misses, but on the whole remarkably few errors, and they also managed to take advantage of loose deliveries to keep the scoreboard ticking along.
Ealham was the most difficult of the bowlers to face, swinging the ball considerably away from the right-hander and bowling a good line and length; with a little more pace, he may well have been lethal. Again, the openers handled him with great skill and judgement. Sutcliffe was the first to his fifty (91 balls), just after lunch, reaching it with one of his few errors, an edge that would have been a chance had third slip been in place, but instead flew between second slip and gully to the boundary. He then survived a very close lbw appeal against Ealham, before Horton reached his 50 (112 balls) - ironically also with a false stroke, an inside-edge that missed the off stump and shot to the left of the keeper to the boundary.
Then came disaster for Lancashire, as Horton played a ball into the covers, called for a quick single, and a superb pick-up and direct hit from Adam Voges found the irate Sutcliffe just short of his crease. He made exactly 50 of the 109-run partnership. The balance of the match swung as Horton (64) fell to the swing of Ealham, well caught one-handed by Swann at slip, who then also caught a struggling Mal Loye (3) in the same position as he edged a rather desperate slash off Shreck. With Lou Vincent, clearly out of practice in his first first-class match of the year, bottom-edging a hook off Shreck to the keeper for 5, Lancashire slumped to 131 for 4 and the balance of the match had quite shifted.
The situation did not faze 'Faf' du Plessis, the South African still undervalued by home supporters. He and Steven Croft began cautiously, but du Plessis grew in confidence and the pair gradually pulled their team out of the mire. They put on 84 together, but du Plessis was another whose valuable fifty (105 balls) was not converted into three figures; he flicked at an arm ball from Swann outside off stump and was caught by the keeper for 55.
Croft appeared to be much slower, but in fact he had less of the strike. Just before the close he reached his fifty off 117 balls, and then survived a hard low catch to slip off the petulant Swann. Hard as the Notts bowlers tried, they could effect no further breakthroughs, and Croft survived to make an attempt tomorrow morning to reach the century he narrowly missed in his last match at Headingley.