Lancashire 131 for 5 (Loye 58, Smith 2-29) v Sussex
Lancashire felt they had a point to prove today. The Championship match against Sussex was played on the same pitch that had been scheduled for the abandoned Twenty20 match between England and Australia the previous evening - which meant the same bowler's run-up would be used and the damp areas on the outfield would be the same. There was a little more rain overnight and in the early morning, but play started only 15 minutes late, with patches of sawdust covering the offending areas. Neither umpires nor players seemed to have any problem with it.
Lancashire decided to bat on winning the toss, but after a rain-spoiled day will wonder whether that was wise. The Sussex seamers, while not devastating, managed to extract considerable movement from the pitch and the slip cordon was on red alert throughout. Lancashire, having dropped Steve Croft from their team, were left without a regular opening partner for Paul Horton and, rather than disturb the comfort of their usual middle order, sent their wicketkeeper Luke Sutton in first.
They began with justified caution, feeling their way against the opening attack of Corey Collymore, who was particularly adept in moving the ball across the right-handers, and Robin Martin-Jenkins, who was to bowl a tight eleven-over spell from the Brian Statham End, which had been condemned the previous evening. Sutton drove Martin-Jenkins straight for a classical boundary, but soon lost Horton for 6, pushing at a ball from Collymore that moved away and handing first slip a comfortable catch.
Mal Loye began rather scratchily and on 7 escaped a difficult chance in the slips, off Collymore again, but then began to play with the confidence of the man in form that he is. Martin-Jenkins removed Sutton, feeling for a ball just outside off stump and edging to second slip for 17, but he had done a useful job in taking the score to 50. Dwayne Smith had by now replaced Collymore and moved the ball considerably, although occasional loose balls outside the off stump gave the batsmen some encouragement and the cover fielders some fetching to do. Unlike your usual seamer, Smith gets through his overs at commendable speed. He had the reward of VVS Laxman's wicket, the Indian being thoroughly beaten and trapped lbw by a quick off-cutter for 6.
Sussex were also welcoming back their Indian leg-spinner Piyush Chawla in place of Yasir Arafat, and he was introduced before lunch. He was not afraid to toss the ball up invitingly on occasions and displayed an interesting variety of deliveries, while the batsmen played his first few overs very carefully. Lancashire went in to lunch at 71 for 3, Loye holding the innings together with his unbeaten 38.
The afternoon session always seemed doomed, as the Met Office predicted. There were two interruptions, the first after just one maiden over had been bowled, before the weather had the final say. Loye cracked a ball from Smith through the covers for four off the back foot to reach his 50, a mixture of watchfulness and aggression that took him 116 balls. But he fell for 58 to an unsightly mow that he doubtless deeply regretted, as it resulted in a simple catch sliced to backward point. The bowler was Ollie Raynor, whose second delivery it was, so the batsman had certainly not had a good look at him before playing a risky stroke.
Raynor in fact tied the batsmen down in an economical spell of seven overs for only eight runs. Faf du Plessis played some handsome drives, but most of them seemed drawn magnetically to the fielders. Lancashire's fifth wicket went down for 131 when Mark Chilton was another to fall in the slips, fishing outside off to a ball from Smith that proved to be the last of the day. The umpires at this point decided the light was too bad for play, and shortly afterwards a light rain arrived and decided the famous old Test ground was a nice place to settle down for the day.
The weather forecast for the rest of the week is grim. This match may well be doomed to a draw, but in between the showers there is hope of some good cricket, and the possibility that good bowling may yet make what play there is interesting.