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September 18, 2008
Stuart Law has come under increasing pressure as this season has developed, following his outburst over Dominic Cork's release and Lancashire's poor form. Despite a fighting 79 against Kent at Aigburth his problems don't look like easing as his team continue to face a defeat that will leave them deep in relegation territory.
However, Law just about kept his side afloat and their lead stands at 131, which could yet become enough to give Kent some jitters, and is considerably better than the situation was at 160 for 5. If the lower-order wags, and with Glen Chapple still at the crease it is a possibility, they could still set something around 175. There is enough in the pitch for all the bowlers to give them a chance, but they could ill-afford the late departures of Law and Luke Sutton.
Amjad Khan played a role in both dismissals, bowling Sutton as he played round a straight ball then making excellent ground at third man to grasp Law's upper-cut. Khan took two of the three wickets that it cost Lancashire to erase Kent's 126-run lead and has certainly brought a cutting edge to the visitors' attack.
The pitch behaved less extravagantly than on the opening day, but there was still plenty on offer for the seamers - with a touch of uneven bounce making an appearance. There was also turn when the spinners finally earned their chance with James Tredwell and Martin van Jaarsveld each claiming an important wicket. However, Chris Broad, the pitch liaison officer, made an early decision that his services weren't required.
Aigburth is a high-quality outground and like many around the country could do little about the recent weather. They may well get the chance to stage more Championship games here in the future as the redevelopment of Old Trafford, which will include turning the square through 90 degrees, is likely to take it out of commission for four-day cricket in 2010. It certainly produces result-orientated cricket and for a period a two-day finish was looming.
When Mark Chilton fell in the first over of Lancashire's second innings, pushing outside off stump during a tricky 10-minute session before the break, another collapse was on the cards. Finally, however, Lancashire showed some resilience and with an eye on the future it came from Paul Horton and Karl Brown, two of the younger brigade.
For Brown it will have been a relief to get off the mark for the first time in his Championship career. He produced some sweet boundaries, particularly through the leg side, while Horton drove strongly through the covers. Horton became the first Lancashire batsman to pass 1000 first-class runs for the season but, shortly after being missed off a sharp chance at third slip, edged Khan's second ball through to Geraint Jones who took a good catch to his right.
Lancashire continued to work away at the deficit before Brown undid his hard work with a flat-footed poke to give the impressive Khan his second wicket. Law, batting with an injured finger, battled hard against his indifferent recent form as he and Faf du Plessis took Lancashire into the lead. However, the first spin of the match was introduced 20 minutes before tea in the shape of Tredwell and, after Law picked off a couple of loose balls, one gripped a little to take du Plessis' glove to short leg, giving Kent another opening. Shortly after the interval Steven Croft padded up to van Jaarsveld and with half the side gone the lead was just 34.
Lancashire's batting statistics can be slightly misleading because this is the first Championship match they have taken guard in since playing Kent, at Canterbury, nearly a month ago. Still, when Law went to his fifty off 81 balls it was his first since August 6 and he was almost keeping Lancashire alive on his own. However, he needed some support.
Sutton managed it for a while, despite his best efforts to locate the off-side fielders, but after adding 54 for the sixth wicket he was beaten by Khan. Law's wicket, though, was the hammer blow to Lancashire's hopes and he walked off, head bowed, with the realisation that his team are running out of time to save their season.
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