Lancashire 305 (Bohannon 68, Davies 57, Kerrigan 4-60, Taylor 4-91) and 296 for 7 declared (Croft 103*) beat Northamptonshire 177 (Bailey 3-32, Parkinson 3-49) and 218 (Procter 93, Wood 3-31, Parkinson 3-39) by 206 runs

The blackthorn is in flower and the chiffchaffs will arrive soon. The County Championship season has begun with some fine games and few can have been more engrossing than the one that concluded at Emirates Old Trafford this evening. All the same, when folk arrived at the ground on a sunlit morning some rather desultory chat centred on how many sanitiser breaks Northamptonshire's remaining seven wickets would survive before Lancashire sealed their first victory of the season. The all too easy assumption was that either Saqib Mahmood would blast the visitors out or Matt Parkinson would twirl them back to Wantage Road. Adam Rossington's cricketers adore such blithe expectation; it gives them the chance to trample on it.

As things turned out, after nearly a full day of compelling cricket Lancashire did win this game but only with 13.3 overs left in the contest. Parkinson's leg spinner was, so the umpire Mike Burns decided, edged onto his pad by Luke Procter and caught by the batsman's old mucker, Steven Croft at backward short leg. Procter is a phlegmatic sort of bloke but he looked aghast. He had batted 371 minutes for 93 runs and there were times in the day when it seemed he would guide Northants to a draw against the side he had represented with limitless pride for many years. Anyone thinking of mentioning to Procter that he had played a noble part in a wonderful day's cricket should probably wait a few weeks before doing so. On second thoughts, make it a few months.

It was neither Parkinson nor Mahmood who had made the vital late breakthroughs just before the last hour commenced. That honour fell to Luke Wood, who had Nathan Buck caught down the leg side by Alex Davies after the former Lancashire seamer had shared in an eighth-wicket stand with Procter that had sucked up 18 overs. With the final hour plus eight overs left in this rich game and three wickets in hand, some in the Northants dressing-room may have been wondering if an escape was possible. Instead, Wood followed his removal of Buck by yorking Simon Kerrigan first ball. After that it really did seem a matter of time; not that anyone told Procter.

Suddenly it was very much more than half a day since Northants had lost three wickets in ten overs of the first session. At that point the visitors' frailties looked likely to send us all home quite early. The reverse sweep will never be pleasing on the eye but rarely can it have appeared quite such a misbegotten thing as when Ricardo Vasconcelos attempted to play it off Parkinson's second ball of the morning. The Northants opener left all his stumps exposed, missed the ball and was bowled off his boot. Nought for technical merit and less than that for artistic impression. Three overs later Rossington pushed all too loosely at Wood and nicked a catch to Keaton Jennings at first slip.

Saif Zaib's dismissal by Parkinson was more controversial. Burns' judgment that the batsman was playing no shot was fair enough; Zaib's jab down looked an afterthought. It was surely stretching it, though, to argue the ball would have hit the stumps and one wondered whether the leg spinner's Warnesque dismissal of Rossington on Friday evening coloured the judgement. Probably not. Burns took a while to make the decision and the old sweats told us all to look in the book. (Slight yawn, to be honest. Even Zaib knew he was out.)

That, though, was the last success Lancashire were to enjoy for nearly 37 overs. Encouraged by Procter, Tom Taylor played very straight and took what luck was available for a minute short of two hours. So secure was Taylor's defence that his dismissal seemed to surprise his opponents as much as everyone else. But then he was stumped off the 92nd ball bowled in first-class cricket by Rob Jones, a leg spinner whose enthusiasm is inversely proportionate to his success.

It should also be noted that Jones' wicket in his only over - and his second success in the Championship following that of Tom Fell - was perfectly timed. Ten balls later the new ball became due and we readied ourselves for some last rites. Procter, in sharpest contrast, did not. He continued to resist, this time in company with Buck, whose first dozen balls brought him 13 runs, the same number Taylor had scored off 115. Four slips were posted for Mahmood and we awaited a collapse that turned out to be as quick to arrive as Billy Bunter's postal order or the result of a public inquiry. Instead of a rapid subsidence Northamptonshire's batsmen relaxed into obduracy. Lancashire's cricketers became nervy, their appeals more hopeful. The new ball lost its initial shine and Vilas called up Wood, who never wants for enthusiasm.

If contests like this lie in wait for us over the next five months we shall be blessed indeed. "At last a day of real warmth, the path through the hanger wood sunlit and dry," wrote John T White in his Country Diary piece for The Guardian in April 1983. "A time for just standing and staring and it was my good fortune that I did so." Our good fortune, this afternoon, too. It seems we are to have another benevolent Spring and we needed one.

Leg spinners like Parkinson will enjoy that and so will their colleagues across the land. Most cricketers are born to the open air and to the lengthening days of summer. Even an indoor net confines them outrageously. This is the time of Dennis Potter's blossomest blossom.

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications