Simon Kerrigan shines on return to Old Trafford that once seemed, to him, unlikely
Northants spinner 'proud' of three wickets against former side, having doubted at times that he'd be back
Lancashire 264 for 8 (Bohannon 68, Davies 57, Kerrigan 3-53, Taylor 3-72) vs Northamptonshire
The short run-up was familiar and so was the number 10 on the back of the spinner's shirt. Home spectators, if spectators of any variety there had been on the first morning of this game, would have recognised it only too fondly. Perhaps some of them did so while watching on the live stream and mayhap their thoughts went back to Taunton in 2011 and a 22-year-old lad being acclaimed as one of the best slow bowlers in the country. On that September evening nearly a decade ago Simon Kerrigan celebrated Lancashire's first title for 77 years with his team-mates. And today he returned to Old Trafford to bowl in a competitive game against Lancashire for the first time…
It is easy to say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Facile proverbs and fortune-cookie wisdom litter self-help books. It is rather harder to do what Kerrigan seems to have done and rebuild a career which once seemed in ruin. His three wickets today, all of them belonging to top-order batsmen, were a triumph of both technique and mental toughness. His figures of 3 for 53 from 30.4 overs suggest very powerfully that he has recovered the many arts of slow bowling that he once seemed to have lost beyond hope of recovery. On a pitch that offered him only a little encouragement - Lancashire had opted to bat first on it - Kerrigan first contained the opposition's best batsmen and then removed them. It was a day's cricket to warm the heart.
Steady the buffs? I think not and neither, perhaps, will cricket supporters of any variety who have followed Kerrigan's career since Taunton. Summoned to The Oval for his Test Match debut in 2013 he was demolished by Shane Watson in the first innings of that game and probably mishandled by the England hierarchy. He returned to Lancashire and for a while all seemed to be well. But gradually Kerrigan's skills and even his basic control deserted him. In 2017 he played a few games on loan at Northamptonshire but then dropped out of the professional county game. People said he was playing club cricket as a batsman. Then he made a couple of first-class appearances in last year's Bob Willis Trophy when the careful nurturing of David Ripley and the staff at Wantage Road began to bear fruit. Over the close season he was awarded a two-year contract by Northants and today he began to show the wisdom of that decision.
When Kerrigan began to bowl from the James Anderson End, Lancashire's early batsmen had done the groundwork necessary to build a formidable first innings total. His first three overs before lunch were tight but unremarkable and the main drama of the session was the run out of Alex Davies for 57 by Tom Taylor's direct hit from midwicket. Kerrigan was recalled to the attack just after lunch when Lancashire were 107 for 2. His control of length and line was so complete that Adam Rossington was able to keep him on until the new ball was taken. Gradually the balance of the first day's play shifted. Taylor added the wicket of Steven Croft to that of Keaton Jennings when Lancashire's No. 4 played an indeterminate waft outside the off stump and edged behind. Over the next hour or so Kerrigan contained both Josh Bohannon and Dane Vilas successfully. There were few moving parts in the delivery stride and a dominance that neither batsman could counter for long. Gradually containment led to penetration and the wickets that have given Northamptonshire the advantage after this first day.
Kerrigan claimed his first victim when Bohannon was leg before wicket on the front foot for a fine 68 that had been accumulated over three hours' careful batsmanship. After tea Rob Jones was brought forward in classic left armer's fashion only to be stumped for 13 by Rossington when the ball turned sharply. Next over Vilas seemed to misread the flight of an arm ball and was struck low on his pad for 26. He probably did not know it but Lancashire's captain joined the ranks of other world-class batsmen, many of them long retired, that Kerrigan dismissed in his pomp.
But this was also a fine day for Taylor, who dismissed Tom Bailey and finished with 3 for 72. And for their part, Lancashire may think they already have a very defendable total in a match where they have picked two front-line spinners and will be bowling last. But as the players left the field it was quite impossible to take one's eyes off a diminutive figure with his Northants cap and sweater under his arm
"There were definitely points in the last few years when I didn't think I'd be back at Old Trafford bowling in a competitive game," said Kerrigan. "So I'm pretty proud to be out here today and it was good to get some overs." Perhaps such characteristic understatement was also very fitting. For when you have proved yourself capable of taking the first steps in reviving your career as Simon Kerrigan has managed, what more is there to say?
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications