Lancashire206 for 8 (Bohannon 94, Melton 3-46) v Derbyshire
It is September yet this cricket season, such as it's been, has run little more than half its course. On Liverpool's great ground, Lancashire and Derbyshire are playing a match the result of which might help to determine the destiny of an utterly new trophy. Inside Aigburth barely a hundred people have gathered for a game which, in normal times, would be a major event, even in this football-crazed city. But instead of the babble of hospitality there is the dull hum of a generator; instead of the chatter of expectation, shouted encouragements ring out in the crisp air: "That's the way, Sammy boy! Backing you, pal." As a backcloth to these sounds, the first ambers of autumn settle on the trees that line Beechwood and Riversdale Roads. "As on this whirligig of Time / We circle with the seasons," wrote Tennyson.
This is a bigger game for Derbyshire, who still have hopes of contesting the Bob Willis Trophy final at Lord's, than it is for Lancashire, whose chance has gone. Yet for nobody do these four days carry more significance than George Lavelle and Jack Morley, who were making their first-class debuts for the home side. So our cricket was freighted with both personal and collective aspirations and when this first day was done, Derbyshire held the advantage, a judgement reinforced by the loss of George Balderson and Danny Lamb's wickets in the final quarter-hour of play. For all that Josh Bohannon's 301-minute 94 had frustrated the visitors a total of 206 for 8 should not daunt them, especially as Lancashire are fielding one of their greenest bowling attacks in recent memory. And as the evening session ended, the cries of the players still rang out as loudly as they had in the gentle warmth of afternoon. "Yes Fynny! Come on Critcher!"
Such encouragements enriched the day but they had barely been voiced at all at eleven o'clock when Sam Conners swung the first ball of the match into Keaton Jennings' pads. Steve O'Shaughnessy did not have to think too long about his decision. His colleague, Graham Lloyd, pondered a little longer when Luis Reece brought one back off the seam to Alex Davies in the fourth over but his finger went up, too, and both openers had gone for nought.
Derbyshire sought more breakthroughs with the new ball but were resisted by Bohannon and Rob Jones, both of whom are in their early twenties yet might think themselves old hands in a Lancashire team five of whom hadn't played first-class cricket before Lammas. And thus the rhythm of the morning was set: Bohannon and Jones, watchful yet unwatched, except by perhaps 80 other souls. Bohannon and Jones, rebuilding an innings, driving sweet fours to a silent boundary. It was like that for most of a session in which early drizzle gave way to broken cloud and brightness.
The visitors took their third wicket when Jones edged Dustin Melton to Leus de Plooy at slip and would have had more if Mattie McKiernan had held on to difficult chances at slip off Melton. But Bohannon and Vilas survived those alarms and after 2 for 2 Lancashire would have taken 71 for 3 at lunch. They would not, however, have accepted the departure of Vilas in the over after the resumption when the Lancashire skipper was surprised by the lift Reece coaxed from the pitch and feathered a catch to Harvey Hosein.
That wicket brought Lavelle to the wicket and he batted without much fuss or worry to make 13 runs in nearly an hour before being pinned on the back foot by Melton. Certainly he did not look out of place but then neither have most of the six young cricketers who have made their first-class debuts in Lancashire's colours this season. One of the first was Balderson, who has settled into county cricket with almost unnerving ease and now played with easy composure and good footwork for 36 until his slash at a ball from Conners gave Wayne Madsen a catch just before the close.
Five runs were scored in nearly half an hour after tea but no one thought the cricket dull. This arm-wrestle was interrupted when Bohannon not only square-drove Reece to the boundary but in the process managed to lose the ball under the media tent. It took Anuj Dal a couple of minutes to locate the thing and he then threw it back to the umpire Lloyd, who decided it still looked like a cricket ball and tossed it back to Reece. Lloyd is rarely given to life's complexities.
Neither, you might argue, is Bohannon and that is why both men are so good at their jobs. The Lancashire cricketer once wondered if this game was for him but he now looks every inch a professional batsman, fond of drives but not in thrall to them and, as we saw again at Aigburth, always ready to grit it out if that is required. Although dropped by McKiernan on 29, and again by Madsen, an easier one on 40, Bohannon was six shy of his second first-class century when he clipped Melton to midwicket where Fynn Hudson-Prentice took a diving catch. Buoyed by this vital wicket, Derbyshire's bowlers dominated the final hour of the day. Morley came out to play his maiden innings in first-class cricket and ended the session with no runs to his name but his wicket intact. One imagines he is looking forward to the morning; he is not by himself.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications