Anderson and Keedy take Lancashire top
Lancashire 187 and 305 beat Worcestershire 146 and 127 (Keedy 5-62, Anderson 4-32) by 219 runs
If there was doubt beforehand, there can be none now. Lancashire have established themselves as the frontrunners for the County Championship, after a clinical and multi-faceted three-day demolition of Worcestershire at Old Trafford.
Seventeen wickets tumbled in little more than two sessions, on a day that began beneath leaden Manchester skies and yet finished in shirt-sleeves and ice-cream conditions. But there was never the slightest suggestion that the pitch was at fault. Instead James Anderson and the left-arm spinner Gary Keedy each found an end of the ground to suit their individual desires, and Worcestershire lined up to be cut down. They were bowled out for 127 in just 42.3 overs, with Anderson confirming that, once box-office, always box-office, as he grabbed the final wicket to complete his maiden first-class ten-for.
Anderson's last Test came against Sri Lanka in Colombo last December, and on this evidence, Keedy should have been playing alongside him. Suspicions about Keedy's batting ability have hindered his chances of international recognition, but class will always tell in the end - even in the era of the Duncan Fletcher multi-tasker. Once Anderson had decapitated the top-order in another of his golden-armed spells, Keedy's beguiling flight and sharp turn was too good for the rest, as he grabbed five of the next six wickets to fall. Only Glen Chapple's dismissal of Andrew Hall broke the Keedy-Anderson monopoly.
For all the efforts of Lancashire's bowlers, this match was won and lost on the second afternoon, when Carl Hooper and Iain Sutcliffe were adding 168 for the third wicket. With that in mind, the morning session was loaded with bad omens for Worcestershire, as they whipped out six cheap but all-too-late wickets. Gareth Batty struck early with a big ripping delivery to end Keedy's nightwatchman duties, before returning only 15 overs into the new ball to remove a stiff-limbed Mal Loye. But it was Matt Mason's snorting dismissal of Chapple from the Stretford End that really put the wind up Worcestershire. When Lancashire's turn came to bowl again, Anderson switched from the Warwick Road after just two tame overs, and with instant effect.
In four breakneck overs, Anderson sealed the game. Stephen Peters fended the sixth delivery of his spell to Mark Chilton in the gully, and Graeme Hick strode out to size up the situation. After watching from the non-striker's end, Hick got off the mark with an imperious first-ball cut shot, but was hurried up and then comprehensively beaten by Anderson's next two balls. The fourth of the over, however, was simply too good - short, fast and rising, and Hooper plucked a sizzling chance at second slip.
Anderson's fourth over followed a similar pattern. He set Ben Smith up with a long-hop, crashed for four, then two balls later offered yet more width but from a fuller length. Keedy at point gobbled the botched square-drive, just moments after the sun had burst through the clouds to bathe Old Trafford in the most glorious of conditions. At 40 for 3 with nearly five sessions remaining, Lancashire could have been forgiven for hopping onto the sun loungers there and then.
Instead Keedy took his cue - and centre stage - all in one go. Kadeer Ali fell victim to the classic slow-left-armer's dismissal - caught by Dominic Cork at slip as he propped forward to a sharply-tweaked middle-stump delivery, and when Hall fell to Chapple, even the resolute Stephen Moore gave up the ghost. Almost unnoticed, he had moved to within five runs of his half-century, but in a unexpected rush of blood, he hared down the wicket and was stumped by a merry mile. (90 for 6).
The tail folded without a whimper. Andy Bichel snicked another beauty on the stroke of tea (112 for 7), Steve Rhodes was trapped in front (120 for 8), and Mason had an almighty heave-ho for Stuart Law to hold a steepler at square-leg (126 for 9). Keedy's late surge for a ten-wicket haul was now in full flow, but Anderson the showman returned at the Stretford End to reclaim the limelight - Nadeem Malik had no chance with a brisk wicket-to-wicket delivery that crashed into his pads.
Anderson returned figures of 10 for 81; Keedy shared top billing with 9 for 82, and Lancashire had moved 13 points clear at the top of the County Championship. It was a triple whammy of impressive proportions, and one that may yet be further recognised when England's squad for the Lord's Test is announced on Sunday morning.
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.