Durham 88 for 3 trail Lancashire 204 (Croft 54, Petersen 51, Rushworth 4-30) by 116 runs
Had James Anderson's stress fracture healed a trifle more quickly, he would have been playing against Pakistan in the Test match at Lord's. Instead of that, however, he spent his Saturday at the home of cricket. That, at any rate, is probably how Chris Firth sees it.
On most weekends in the summer Firth captains Southport and Birkdale's first team but at around 5.30am on the first morning of this game, he began tipping up around a thousand seats to remove the overnight rain from them. This is county week at Trafalgar Road and that matters to folk round here.
Southport is not alone, of course. By a lunacy of the fixture list likely to make even the most tranquil Buddhist scream in frustration, the coming week sees Lancashire play at Southport at the same time as Glamorgan are playing at Colwyn Bay and Kent at Tunbridge Wells. And yes, it is the Cheltenham Festival, too. It is as though someone had decided to hold a beauty contest for England's cricketing Elysiums.
At all of these great grounds members have taken unpaid holidays in order to welcome first-class cricket. Sightscreens have been painted, hospitality sold and patios brushed to within a cubit of their stony lives. Wickets have been rolled and weather forecasts studied with more than jocular cynicism. Outground cricket is not some indulgent Betjemanesque whimsy; it could be near the heart of the English four-day season if only some counties and a few ECB officials loved it a little more and saw the long-term value of spending a few bob taking the game to the people.
Rarely, though, does the composition of the teams in an outground match contain such delightful contrasts as was on offer at Trafalgar Road. In the Lancashire team, for the first two innings anyway, was Anderson, who will almost certainly open England's bowling against Pakistan on Friday, but also Tom Moores, who was making his first-class debut. Moores, indeed, was watched by his father, Peter, not so long ago an England coach himself, but today, was simply a dad watching his lad.
In the Durham side was Ben Stokes, who may line up alongside Anderson on Friday, and Adam Hickey, who had never played in the County Championship before. Of the four players, Moores had just about the better day. His 54-minute 25 helped Lancashire recover a smidgeon from 105 for 5 when Karl Brown was out for nought.
Moores added 41 with Steven Croft but was dropped twice, receiving the first generosity when he nicked his first ball to Stokes at third slip, who thus dropped his second catch of the day and hurled the ball into the ground in Vizigothic fury. Merseyside cricket fans are generally unimpressed by such histrionics. "Hey, Stokesy-la! Butterfingers!" one yelled.
Moores eventually nicked a catch to Michael Richardson off the medium pace of Keaton Jennings and the same bowler removed Kyle Jarvis, caught and bowled for 2, but it was not these later batsmen's fault that Lancashire were 188 for 7 at tea or bowled out for 204 shortly after the resumption.
Chris Rushworth, bowling on a surface which offered him pace and bounce but which both he and Lancashire's Alviro Petersen described as a "good cricket wicket", dismissed the last three batsmen in 11 balls early in the evening session to end the Lancashire innings. Rushworth finished with 4 for 30 from 17 overs while the Lancashire skipper, Croft, was the last man dismissed, caught and bowled by Sunderland's finest beard for a valiant 54.
How Croft must have regretted the profligacy of his colleagues, who had managed to turn a very respectable 91 for 2 into a very dodgy 105 for 5 in just three careless post-prandial overs. This decline began when Luke Procter, having got his nut down in characteristic fashion to make 30 in 135 minutes, flashed at Paul Coughlin but only edged a catch to Richardson.
Then Petersen, perhaps surfing the contentment that comes when you make a half-century against a decent attack, called Croft for a second run but was well beaten by Jack Burnham's throw from deep midwicket. Two overs later, Brown's horribly flat-footed slash only nicked a catch to Jennings off Graham Onions. In less than the time it took the corporate hospitality boys to move from the claret to the port, Lancashire had gone from gentle prosperity to genteel poverty.
But even after they had been bowled out 60 runs short of acceptability, Lancashire cricketers could still console themselves that they had Anderson in their attack during Durham's first innings. This consolation appeared especially significant when Anderson removed Jennings in the third over of the day but Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick then added 69 for the second wicket in a manner that ranged from the confident to the vulnerable. The former was shown by the boundaries the pair stroked off Jarvis; the latter, by the over in which Borthwick played and missed five times to Anderson.
Still, though, the pair survived and it looked as though Durham's cricketers were heading for a position of strength when Procter removed both Stoneman and Burnham in the last five overs of a day that had begun at noon. Catches were edged to Moores and Croft and the Lancashire pair made no mistake. Rushworth considered the game evenly poised and few in the happy crowd on Saturday seemed keen to dispute the contention.
And in many respects that final session was the best of the day. A fed and watered crowd watched the cricket in bubbling contentment and the Southport and Birkdale chairman, Tony Elwood, even sported his Bertie Wooster blazer. For the club's volunteers, all their work was utterly worthwhile as the evening warmed. The sun shone, too, although if the tireless Lindsey Bridge could have found a ladder long enough, she would have sent someone up with a duster to give it a polish.