It has taken Lancashire less than two matches to realise that adapting to the new Old Trafford will be anything but an easy adjustment. They face a major battle to avoid a convincing defeat against Worcestershire.
Worcestershire 291 (Scott 106, Pardoe 55; Kerrigan 4-117) and 9 for 0 lead Lancashire 162 (Ali 6-76, Choudhry 4-38) by 138 runs Scorecard
It has taken Lancashire less than two matches to realise that adapting to the new Old Trafford will be anything but an easy adjustment. Comprehensively outplayed by Nottinghamshire in their only other championship match since the turning of the square, they face another major battle to avoid a similarly convincing defeat against Worcestershire.
Playing on one of the new wickets created by the turning of the square for the first time, the two sides read it totally differently. Lancashire believed it would benefit their seamers and allowed Gary Keedy, their veteran left-arm spinner, to join the second team at Southport while Worcestershire took one look and played two spinners.
It has proved a crucial decision with Lancashire losing eight wickets for 54 runs in 149 balls and needed a 43-run last wicket stand between Simon Kerrigan and Kyle Hogg just to avoid the follow-on after losing all 10 wickets to Moeen Ali's off-spin and the left-arm spin of Shaaik Choudhry. By the time rain halted play 36 overs short on the second day, Worcestershire had established a crucial 138 runs lead and 17 wickets have so far fallen to spin.
"We saw the practice surface they were bowling on the day before and it looked quite similar," explained Ali, who finished with career-best figures of 6 for 67. "I've seen these sorts of pitches quite a lot before when I've been abroad in Asian countries and that's why we played two spinners. We thought it was going to spin big straight away and we were surprised when Keedy didn't play, which was obviously good for us."
Generating extra bounce from the Pavilion End, while Choudhry's lower trajectory allowed the ball to grip and skid onto the batsman from the Statham End, they presented a difficult challenge bowling in tandem for 35 successive overs. It was one that tested the composure and technique of Lancashire's batting line-up and, with one or two exceptions, it was one they failed.
Stephen Moore set the template by charging Ali and picking out mid-on, Karl Brown was stumped trying to charge Choudhry, Tom Smith was caught off a leading edge trying to sweep Ali, who also claimed three wickets with Lancashire's lower order fending off balls with extra bounce to short leg.
Steven Croft, in particular, can feel a little aggrieved after playing back to a sharply-turning delivery from Choudhry that clipped his off-stump, but otherwise coach Peter Moores is sure to hold an inquest into such a damning batting performance. It was a particularly impressive display from Choudhry, whose 4 for 38 was also a career-best, after several weeks of inaction during the Twenty20 programme.
Without a championship victory since beating Lancashire at New Road with two matches remaining last summer, a win that all but secured their first division status, Worcestershire's remarkable turnaround may yet prompt another late bid to avoid relegation. With two more championship matches at Old Trafford before the end of the summer, Lancashire will also need to learn how to read the new pitches better if they are not to be dragged into a relegation battle of their own.
"The wicket was a bit damp on the first morning and we thought that when it dried out it would flatten out for a couple of days and then turn on the last day," explained Kerrigan. "We haven't played too much championship cricket at Old Trafford in the last two years, so we didn't really know what it was going to do.
"On a pitch like this, there is a bit more pressure on me as a spinner to get wickets, but it is nothing I am not used to. I have had similar scenarios in other games. If you shy away from it, you don't deserve a place in the side, so I am looking forward to it."