Follow-on looms for Lancashire
Surrey have never been on the back foot in this match and it was the weather that stopped them making further inroads on the third day at The Oval.
Lancashire 241 for 6 (Hodge 43*, Sutton 0*) trail Surrey 537 for 5 dec by 296 runs
Andrew Flintoff made 23 before being removed by Saqlain Mushtaq
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Surrey have never been on the back foot in this match and it was the weather that stopped them making further inroads on the third day at The Oval. Lancashire still need 147 runs to save the follow-on, but the 40 overs lost plus a poor forecast for Saturday means they are likely to escape a poor performance with a draw.
The temperature remained rooted in single figures and the crisp sunshine of yesterday was replaced by a slate-grey sky which made it feel like anything but cricket weather. The sloppiness from Lancashire's fielding display, where they spilled two crucial catches, seeped into the batting as they presented Surrey with two of their wickets .
Mal Loye was run out by a smart piece of work by substitute Chris Schofield at cover, on the field for Usman Afzaal and against his former club, and Stuart Law drove Pedro Collins to mid-off after a steady 92-run stand with Brad Hodge.
Collins, who reckoned he was wearing about six layers, said it was about as cold as he'd experienced in a match. "I remember a game I played in New Zealand, it was pretty cold but not as cold as here. Today was pretty nippy," he said. "It's different, your eyes are watering, your nose is running and your hands are freezing. But you are here to do a job so you've got to tough it out."
Paul Horton, Lancashire's Player of the Year for 2007, had started compactly on the second evening and continued in positive style, driving handsomely through the covers as he reached fifty off 64 balls. The easy nature of the pitch was highlighted by the fact that the nightwatchman Gary Keedy was able to survive quite comfortably for his 29.
James Ormond made the breakthrough when he got one to lift off the seam and take Horton's edge through to Jon Batty. Keedy then lost his off stump to the highly impressive Chris Jordan, who worked up good pace from the Pavilion End.
Loye was kept quiet for 23 balls until he was caught short by Schofield's acrobatic work at cover. Hodge dropped the ball into the covers and immediately called for a quick single but Loye was short at the striker's end when Schofield hit the stumps direct. Lancashire had lost three for 12, the first time the fielding side had dominated in the game.
Hodge refocused quickly after the run-out and formed a solid partnership with Law. There were few alarms as the pitch remained ideal for batting and Mark Butcher began rotating his bowling options. The stand was beginning to flourish when Collins returned and Law was too early on a drive. Mark Ramprakash, showing the athleticism that proves he wouldn't have been out of place in the IPL if he'd not turned down the latest offer, held on low at mid-off.
Andrew Flintoff emerged to begin the next step of his search for form and there were positive signs early on. An on-drive was followed by a punchy back-foot force and a neat swivel-pull as he settled in against the pace bowlers. However, as has often been the case spin brought his downfall when he edged a doosra from Saqlain Mushtaq to Butcher at slip.
A few moments later, following two slippery bouncers from Jordon at Luke Sutton, the umpires conferred for the second time in two balls then offered the light which was gladly accepted by the under-pressure batsmen. For those with one eye on events in India it was perfect timing. They were able to escape to a warm dressing room and watch Brendon McCullum's astonishing 158. While the future unfolded in a blaze of fours and sixes this day in south London was for the real diehard county fan.
Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo