Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
Hampshire 143 and 158 for 7 (Vince 69, Bailey 5-19) lead Lancashire 141 (Abbas 5-48, Barker 4-48) by 160 runs
There was great joy at both Aigburths yesterday. At the cricket ground, the home of Liverpool CC, Hampshire's James Vince played a lovely innings and Lancashire's Tom Bailey took five wickets. Meanwhile at Aigburth CC, which is located more or less round the back of the nearby railway station, the club had had its lease extended by five years. This is wonderful news. The threat to the club's very existence had been grave and pressing. And no one should mistake the link between the latter tidings and the fine performances of Vince and Bailey. If club cricket in this country disappeared, the first-class variety would conk out within a decade.
Anyone doubting that fact should perhaps visit Erlestoke CC in Wiltshire, where Vince first played the game. His talent may be natural; indeed, that much was plain on this second afternoon when his innings of 69 and his 80-run partnership with Liam Dawson had given Hampshire a 160-run lead and the advantage in a match which may yet lead to their county winning the Championship. Or our pesky doubters could go to Goatacre CC, also in Wiltshire, where Dawson "got into the game" by watching his dad play. The truth, of course, is that every one of the players involved in this intriguing battle began their careers at a club. There was a time when very few people in cricket knew who Vince or Dawson or Bailey (Vernon Carus CC) were.
Everyone in the game knows them now, of course, and their skills enriched this day on which warm afternoon sunshine rapidly gave way to the sharp chill of autumn. Vince and Dawson came together when Hampshire were 78 for 5 and their lead was an insufficient 80 runs. By the time Vince was leg before to Matt Parkinson four overs before the close that advantage had been doubled and not even the loss of Dawson, who was bowled by Bailey for 41 in the next over, could extinguish the feeling that Hampshire had ground out a match-winning advantage. We shall see.
And not everything was a grind. Although three of Vince's fours were worked through backward point in the manner of a county opener there was also an easeful cover-drive and the smoothest of clips off his toes. Vince, of course, is so gifted a cricketer that one often feels he sees playing a difficult shot as a gauntlet to be picked up rather than a danger to be avoided. Anything else would be a betrayal of talent. Fortunately he had some dross to despatch this afternoon and he did so without fancy or flourish. So did Dawson but this day's cricket had already given us riches from both sides and even as the cold penetrates the press tent it is difficult to think we must soon bid these things farewell.
Lancashire had begun the morning on 25 for 3 and for the first hour of the day batting looked like an activity the human race had yet to master. Keith Barker caused most of the trouble, first when his extra bounce took the edge of Josh Bohannon's bat and Joe Weatherley dived from second slip to take a fine catch, but most notably when he cleaned up Dane Vilas and Danny Lamb in the same over. The ball Vilas drove to cover may have stopped on him a little but Lamb was beaten all ends up and his departure left Lancashire in ruins on 47 for 7. It suddenly seemed to matter very little to home supporters what was happening at either Trent Bridge or Edgbaston. Forty minutes into the morning's play Vilas had clipped Barker to the square-leg boundary and anyone passing Aigburth might have thought from the applause that a player had reached their fifty.
Within an hour though, Luke Wood had brought this seemingly absurd prospect within reach. Wood's batting possesses thought without complication. It is a good mixture and it earned him 37 runs off 41 balls. At the other end Steven Croft watched in quiet satisfaction as his partner top-edged a hooked six, smacked five fours and took control of a 46-run stand that nearly doubled Lancashire's score. And even when Wood had edged a slash off Brad Wheal to Tom Alsop, Croft and Bailey batted with renewed vigour against a tiring attack and an ageing ball.
Indeed the shot of the morning was the six that Croft picked up off Barker and deposited into the crowd at midwicket. Lancashire came into lunch on 115 for 8 and as though reflecting the crowd's mood, the sun came out. It really wouldn't have been surprising to hear some of Gracie Fields' more cheerful ditties coming from the loudspeaker. Or George Formby, perhaps. Not The Smiths anyway. That really is 47 for 7 music.
By the time Mohammad Abbas had removed Croft and Bailey over half an hour into the afternoon session Lancashire's deficit was a mere two runs and Lancashire had offered batters on both sides something of an example of how to bat on a pitch that has not so much one wicket in it as a clump of the rascals.
Mind you, it helps if you have a new ball available and a bowler as skilful as Bailey to use it. In his first five overs in Hampshire's second innings the Lancashire seamer had returned Ian Holland, Mason Crane and Alsop to the pavilion and one imagines all three were grumbling about outgrounds in September. Three overs later Nick Gubbins was bowled by George Balderson with one that kept low and nearly an hour later Joe Weatherley played on to Bailey for 33.
Then Dawson joined Vince. We watched our cricket and noticed that while the eponymous trees have not yet turned on Beechwood Road the hazels were going over on Riversdale; thus were we reminded of the turning of the year and of this great city in a more leisured age, one in which the Liverpool club was dominated by cricketers who learned the game at their public schools.
And there are still many Liverpools just as there are many types of batters. Vince, for all that his seemingly cavalier approach to his craft is occasionally frustrating, is one of the few who can transcend the conditions in which he plays. We should be grateful we have the chance to see him do so and we should be thankful for Erlestoke, too.
Hampshire vs Lancashire