Anderson and Hooper put Lancashire in command
Lancashire 187 (Loye 59*) and 200 for 3 (Hooper 100, Sutcliffe 81*) lead Worcestershire 146 (Anderson 6-49) by 241 runs
It's amazing what a winter's rest can do for a jaded fast bowler. At the end of last season, James Anderson was a shadow of the red-streaked menace who swept all before him in a meteoric rise to stardom. But eight months and several frustrating hours of net practice later, he has once again been allowed to make his mark on a first-class match.
After being kept on the sidelines throughout England's triumphant Test series in the Caribbean, Anderson marked his Old Trafford homecoming with a first-innings haul of 6 for 49, including four wickets in six overs this morning. His efforts paved the way for a day of Lancastrian dominance, which was underwritten by the coolest of centuries from the former West Indian captain, Carl Hooper.
Anderson's great strength as a bowler is his ability to conjure wickets from nothing deliveries - although when the magic deserts him, it can often be his greatest failing as well. But from the second ball of the day onwards, when Kadeer Ali wafted a leg-side delivery through to Warren Hegg, Anderson was pre-destined to produce one of those typically irrepressible spells. He followed up with a searing yorker that splattered Nadeem Malik's stumps (88 for 6), before pinning Gareth Batty in front for 0 (94 for 7). Andrew Hall dented his figures with a push for four and a slash that just evaded second slip, but when Andy Bichel had his off stump detonated for 3, Worcestershire were a perilous 102 for 8, having lost their last six wickets for 26.
At this stage, there was no indication of just how serene Hooper and his sidekick, Iain Sutcliffe, would find the batting conditions later in the day. Hall and Steve Rhodes rode what was left of Worcestershire's luck to reduce the deficit to a manageable 41, but in an ominous foreshadow of what might await them on the fourth day, it was the spinner Gary Keedy who applied the coup de grace. Hall smeared a slog-sweep to midwicket for 34, before Matt Mason toppled out of his crease to be smartly stumped by Hegg. In two mesmerically brief spells, Keedy had helped himself to 4 for 20.
Lancashire began their second innings in a trance, as if they couldn't believe they had been handed control of the match. They reached lunch unscathed, but the early introduction of Batty paid instant dividends, as Mark Chilton played back and was rapped on the pads for 12. And with Mal Loye still recovering from his back spasm, Stuart Law had not got off the mark when he flicked his third delivery, a leg-stump half-volley from Mason, tamely to Kadeer at square leg. Perhaps he had heard rumours that the England selectors were sniffing around the ground.
At 32 for 2, Lancashire were one wicket away from relinquishing their grip on the game, and their engine room of Hooper and Law had contributed all of nine runs in three innings. It could mean only one thing. Hooper avoided his duck by depositing Batty for a one-bounce four, followed up with an uppercut to third man, and then left his crease once again for another lofted boundary. But he wasn't satisfied with just a statement of intent - he was determined to make a speech. With Sutcliffe chugging along contentedly beside him, Hooper reigned in his attacking instincts, just as the sun burst through the cloud cover to transform the match conditions.
After six consecutive maidens, Sutcliffe broke the deadlock with a sweet cover-drive for four, before Hooper square-drove Hall to move into the forties. The pair brought up their half-centuries in quick succession - Sutcliffe with a piercing extra-cover drive, Hooper with a tickled single to fine leg that typified an innings of uncommon patience.
Worcestershire were devoid of ideas. Batty's lack of variety was in stark contrast to the flight and invention shown by his opposite number Keedy, while the seamers could do no more than keep a tight line as the pitch lost its venom and the ball lost its shine. The only sniff of a chance came with Hooper on 99, when he all but ran himself out while sizing up a quick single to short third man. Next ball, however, he found the gap he had been aiming for, and trotted through to complete a fine century.
Three balls later, Hooper gifted Worcestershire a late breakthrough as he chased a wide one from Bichel, but Sutcliffe and Keedy shut out the rest of the day. With a lead of 241 and seven wickets in hand, it will take an improbable chain of events for Lancashire to squander such a position of strength.
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.