Loye steadies shaky Lancashire
Lancashire 237 for 6 (Loye 84, Ealham 3-26) trail Nottinghamshire 388 (Hussey 126, Brown 54) by 151 runs
Geoff Miller, the national selector, came along to assess Ryan Sidebottom's well-being before the first Ashes Test team is drawn up this weekend but it was a day on which the biggest influences were a couple of gnarled old veterans whose England days are behind them.
Sidebottom, somewhat contentiously making his first Championship appearance since early May, sent down 17 overs in four spells, beating the bat with encouraging frequency but ending wicketless. Given that his ration over the last six weeks largely consisted of two-over bursts in Twenty20, it was important, clearly, for him to rediscover the rhythms of the longer game.
Discovering ways to make Lancashire struggle was left to others, the most successful among whom was Mark Ealham, now in his 40th year but not much less effective for it. It may be nine years since he pulled on an England shirt but the former one-day specialist still has the ability to trouble even the best batsmen with his variations in pace and trajectory.
Ask VVS Laxman. The Indian Test star looked set for a substantial innings on a slow, dry pitch but Ealham twice forced him into mis-hit strokes to backward point, where he was dropped in the first instance by Bilal Shafayat but taken by the same player soon afterwards, at the cost of only five runs.
Sidebottom had begun the day wielding the bat to good effect. On 35 overnight, he extended that to 46 - his best first-class score for 10 years - before being bowled by Oliver Newby. With Charlie Shreck, a genuine No. 11, registering only his fourth double-digit score in 80 first-class innings, Nottinghamshire stretched their total to 388.
Darren Pattinson then struck an early blow for Nottinghamshire with the ball, when Paul Horton dangled his bat rather limply to be caught at first slip. Ealham, with his third ball, accounted for opener Karl Brown, trapped leg before, and made Mark Chilton his third victim in the post-lunch spell that saw off Laxman.
Sending down 88 overs in strength-sapping heat, the Nottinghamshire bowlers had an exhausting day but their work was well rewarded. Lancashire were allowed to score at less than three runs per over and had not yet avoided the follow-on but would have been in still more dire straits but for Mal Loye.
Loye, who struggled for runs over the last couple of seasons, found the resolve to rescue Lancashire from 31 for 2, anchoring the innings for more than three hours. Although dropped by Ali Brown at first slip on 74 - denying Ealham another wicket - he looked set for his first century in first-class cricket since April 2007 but in giving the charge to Samit Patel's left-arm spin managed to lose his leg stump, 16 runs short.
There was some chuntering from Lancashire over Sidebottom's appearance, given that it had been deemed that their own contracted England players, Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson, should play in the Ashes warm-up match at Edgbaston, while the hopeful Sajid Mahmood was picked for the Lions at Worcester.
"We support the central contracts system but sometimes it is difficult to explain to members when there appears to be inconsistency," Lancashire chief executive, Jim Cumbes, said. He has a point, although Nottinghamshire might feel moved to mention that while they had Sidebottom they did not have Stuart Broad or Graeme Swann.
The other avenue of conversation explored by punters here asked whether Sidebottom's absence from the main England party meant he will not play in the opening Test. Or perhaps that England did not want the Australians to get a look at him before Cardiff.
Miller, who turned up to watch him here, disarmed both theories, insisting the selection was shaped by pragmatism rather than plot. "We know where we are with Ryan but there are other seam bowlers we wanted to look at in a different situation and this game seemed the most logical one for him to play in," England's national selector said.