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Doughty Croft blends Lancashire resistance

Lancashire 196 for 4 (Croft 82*) v Warwickshire

Those fortunate enough to have sipped Lagavulin can testify that short measures frequently possess rich and satisfying flavours. When the morning's cascading rain finally gave way to sharp afternoon sunlight at Emirates Old Trafford, the cricketers contested the day's 67 overs as if determined to make up with intensity what had been lost in time.

No one exemplified that admirable fierceness of battle on the first day of this game better than Jeetan Patel and Steven Croft. Warwickshire's Patel bowled 19 overs from the Pavilion End and did nothing to weaken the case that he is the best spinner in domestic cricket. He removed Alviro Petersen for 25 in his first over when the Lancashire batsman lapped him to short leg, where Sam Hain clung on to an excellent catch. That left the home side ailing on 46 for 3 and after Luke Procter had helped Croft add a useful 45 for the fourth wicket Patel lured the left-hander down the pitch to play a defensive shot only for the ball to turn past the bat. Tim Ambrose completed the stumping with the unobtrusive calm of a maƮtre d' accepting a tip.

Yet for all Patel's subtle variations and easy control, the day finally belonged to Lancashire's Croft, whose 82 not out was only his second Championship fifty of a season in which he has otherwise been fully extended as captain, bowler, fielder and even wicketkeeper, a job he did for the first time in the recent Roses match, conceding two byes in 544 runs.

Yet Croft is often his toughest critic and he will not regard two half-centuries as an adequate return for a top-order batsman nearly halfway through the 16-match campaign. Nevertheless, he will also be pleased to have taken his side from 91 for 4, when Procter committed his gentle indiscretion, to 196 without further loss. Joining him in that task was Karl Brown whose own form this season has fuelled his critics and frustrated his admirers.

In eight completed Division One innings Brown has reached double figures four times. On each of these occasions he has got into the 40s yet his highest score is the 51 he made against Yorkshire. At the close of this first day he is 41 not out. This talented yet exasperating batsman has yet another chance to go on and make the major score of which he is capable.

Croft and Brown's repair of their side's innings was all the more necessary because Lancashire had lost both openers in the first four overs as Ian Bell's new-ball bowlers justified their skipper's decision to field first on a pitch which is already offering help to the quicker bowlers when the ball is hard and assistance to spinners like Patel who give it a rip. Tom Smith edged a catch to Ambrose when he drove altogether too loosely at Keith Barker's seventh ball of the innings and Haseeb Hameed's sometimes painful education in the wiles of Division One cricket continued when he was leg-before to a yorker from Rikki Clarke.

When Peterson also departed Lancashire's fans surely feared that their recent batting travails were about to resume and, indeed, they yet might. But Croft's uncomplicated style with its firm cover drives and wristy cuts had done a little more than restore parity by the end of a fascinating two sessions. It was thus appropriate that the skipper reached his fifty off 107 balls with a sweep off Patel and that Croft celebrated the achievement of that landmark with a six over deep midwicket in the same bowler's next over.

By the close Croft and Brown had taken their fifth-wicket stand to 105 but their work is nothing like done and the shape of this match is not yet set. For one thing it will be interesting to see which coach's team selection proves the shrewder. Warwickshire, albeit knowing they were going to bowl first, left out wrist-spinner Josh Poysden in order to include a fourth seamer. By contrast, Lancashire, whose first-choice spinner, Simon Kerrigan, was unable to play because of a back problem, chose to leave out Nathan Buck and give a first-team debut to the 19-year-old leggie, Matthew Parkinson, in addition to including specialist offspinner, Arron Lilley, and part-time twister, Liam Livingstone.

And despite his excellence Croft's time as a wicketkeeper may be limited. It is expected that Lancashire will very soon announce the signing of Nottinghamshire's Tom Moores on loan. Moores, who is the son of the former Lancashire and England coach Peter Moores, played for the second team on Monday and is set to make his first-team debut in Friday's NatWest T20 Blast fixture against Worcestershire Rapids.

With Alex Davies scheduled to have an exploratory operation on his knee injury on Tuesday and Jos Buttler on one-day international duty with England, Lancashire's cricket director, Ashley Giles, made the move for the highly rated Moores, who has represented England Under-19s and has made 36 appearances across all three formats for Nottinghamshire's second team .