Davies' risk brings handsome reward for Lancashire

Lancashire 278 for 5 (Davies 115, Vilas 76*) trail Hampshire 395 (Bailey 127, Abbott 97) by 117 runs

Alex Davies irritates opponents and seems to greatly enjoy doing so. Very many other cricketers have possessed a similar cast of mind, of course, but few achieve their goal with quite the gleeful devil evinced by Davies. For example, Hampshire had only to place two short midwickets during the second session of this day for him to clip the ball along the ground between them. Such calculated daring brought Davies a third Championship century of the season and it refreshed Lancashire supporters on an afternoon when the heat blanketed anyone emerging from shade.

Davies's approach is often garlanded with risk. He was dropped twice on the way to his hundred and on 17 he would have been run out by the length of a 1930s dole queue had Matt Salisbury's throw hit the stumps. But Davies seems to savour danger, too. For all his 22 years and, one might assume, relative maturity, he grins out of his photographs like one of William Brown's outlaws in Richmal Crompton's once popular stories. One can imagine him scrumping apples or making good use of a catapult in the age before screens sought vainly to dull the young. That disarmingly wide-eyed innocence deceives no one; Davies is one of cricket's good-hearted rascals and one of the game's undiluted competitors.

He is also a fine batsman. By the time he was caught at deep square leg by Michael Carberry off James Vince's fifth ball of the innings he had taken Lancashire to within 26 runs of avoiding the follow-on. That task was completed by Dane Vilas and Ryan McLaren during a session when the bat held sway over the ball and the day drifted into the warm reverie of a summer evening. At one stage, the batsmen were having a drink, Lewis McManus was changing his wicketkeeping gloves and a Hampshire cricketer was removing grit from a team mate's boots. Our cricket ended at nearly seven o'clock with Lancashire 117 runs in arrears and Vilas unbeaten on a fine 76. The crowd drifted off for their restorative suppers and perhaps they will be encouraged a little by the South African's disciplined application.

In mid-afternoon, though it seemed longer than that, the home supporters - all sun hats, polo shirts and cotton dresses - had required reviving for other reasons. Having seen Hampshire complete their recovery from 177 for 6 and post a healthy 395, they had then watched as Lancashire lost their first three wickets for a mere 69. This decline began when Rob Jones, having taken a blow on the helmet from Gareth Berg, was snared lbw for 2 by the next delivery, which caught him on the crease.

That was a fine piece of cricket by this impressive Hampshire team and it was followed by another four overs after lunch when a Berg inswinger removed Luke Procter's off stump. Steven Croft, Lancashire's normally combative captain, then played perhaps the most quiescent innings of his career, scratching a single from 32 balls in 54 minutes before he was leg before when playing no recognisable shot at all to a ball from Kyle Abbott which nipped back off the pitch.

Lancashire's recovery from these toils was led by Davies and it was begun by his rather skittish partnership of 74 with Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Having taken only two runs from five overs near the beginning of their stand, the pair then collected 47 from the next 30 balls. Chanderpaul got off the mark with two cover-driven fours and he and Davies both took sixes off the same Brad Taylor over. Runs came in something of a torrent on this true pitch which currently facilitates attacking strokeplay. Davies manufactured fours to third man and clipped the ball backward of square and Chanderpaul, who can exhibit all the gay daring of a borough surveyor examining a warehouse, matched Davies shot for shot, but was stumped for 33 when lured forward by an excellent ball from the offspinner, Taylor which turned past the outside edge. Yet Vilas batted with even more disciplined aggression into the evening session and it suddenly seemed ages since the last rites of Hampshire's innings

Those had begun when James Anderson, who bowled with more threat in six overs on the second morning than he had managed in 22 on the first day, removed Taylor in the third over but Salisbury then put on 43 for the last wicket with Abbott. Indeed, so unruffled were the last-wicket pair that it seemed Abbott would follow Jack Brooks' example in the previous first-class match on this ground and cruise to a maiden century. Alas for such Natalian dreams, Salisbury skied McLaren to Chanderpaul at mid-on when Abbott was 97 and the visitors' innings ended on 395.

Hampshire were well-placed with that total on the board and were in an even stronger position in mid-afternoon. But ultimately the day belonged to Davies. Short, combative and increasingly skilful, Lancashire's wicketkeeper long ago won the respect of his colleagues; he can now add the fond regard of the county's supporters, all of whom know that he is one of those players who always give of their best and whose loyalty has been firmly pledged. A year ago his career was threatened by a knee injury and in early April he had yet to score a first-class hundred; now he has three of them although not yet a full cap. Lancashire cricket is both his livelihood and his sporting love. She will never suffer if he can prevent it.