Lancashire 364 for 4 (Croft 113*, Prince 96) v Somerset
On the ground where they secured their first outright championship title since 1934 just seven months ago, Lancashire enjoyed their best day of a season that has taken some time to flicker into life.
Starting this game bottom of the table and having failed to pass 250 in any innings, Lancashire are already on the brink of maximum batting bonus points after taking a heavy toll on an attack as green as the emerald outfield. Steven Croft, with the fourth first-class century of his career and the first by any Lancashire batsman this season, added 208 for the fourth-wicket with Ashwell Prince in just 49 overs. The pitch is unusually true for this time of year, but to concede over four an over in April says as much about the bowling as it does the batting.
This was an oddly uncompetitive day's cricket. Much of the time it resembled a fixture between a county and a university side as an injury-depleted Somerset team was exposed for its inexperience. As a result, Somerset will send for reinforcements in the coming days.
"We will look into the loan market very quickly at the end of this game," Brian Rose, Somerset's director of cricket told ESPNcricinfo. "I only have one more bowler in reserve - James Overton - so we have already started to look at some names that aren't playing. There don't seem to be many options, but it is an area we are going to explore."
Perhaps, had James Hildreth at slip, held on to a low chance offered by Prince off Peter Trego when the batsman had just seven, things might have been different. As it was, though, Prince and in particular Croft were content to put away the poor ball on a decent pitch offering little margin for error. They rarely had to wait for long. Somerset struggled with their line and length throughout, with a tendency to pitch too short punished in such easy-paced conditions.
"Our back-up bowlers let us down a bit," Hildreth, Somerset's stand-in captain, admitted afterwards. "We had simple game plans but we didn't execute them properly. It's a bit disappointing, but we have to remember that some of these bowlers are young."
If it is the hope that hurts, then Somerset supporters can take some comfort from the day's play. While the final weeks of recent seasons have been characterised by agony as the team threaten to win their maiden championship title only to fall away at the last, this year there will be no such pain. It is highly unlikely that Somerset will win the championship this year.
They do not have the depth in their bowling attack to mount a sustainable challenge. With Alfonso Thomas absent on IPL duty and Steve Kirby, Geemal Hussain and Adam Dibble injured, they have been obliged to rely too heavily on a band of talented but inexperienced bowlers. Craig Overton is barely 18, George Dockrell and Lewis Gregory are both teenagers and Craig Meschede is, aged 20, the oldest of the four. They have played just 27 first-class games between them. Indeed, Glen Chapple, the Lancashire captain, has played more first-class cricket than all six members of the Somerset attack combined. While Somerset could claim, with some justification, they have suffered some ill-fortune, they might also reflect on the wisdom of allowing Charl Willoughby to depart for Essex. Their squad is too thin.
It would be unreasonable to expect too much of their callow recruits. Overton, tall but red raw, has just a hint of Stuart Broad about him and may well develop into a fine cricketer. He also claimed his maiden first-class wicket when Prince punched one to mid-wicket. Gregory bowled horribly most of the time, but also ended Karl Brown's delightfully fluent innings with a good, full ball and has, just occasionally, a turn of pace that suggests there is plenty of untapped talent lurking within. Neither they nor Meschede are yet ready for this level, but all are worth perseverance. Somerset have simply asked a bit much of them a bit soon.
More disappointing was the performance of Vernon Philander. The South African removed Paul Horton early, leaving a straight one, but generally failed to utilise the new ball by making the batsmen play in that crucial first hour and conceded four an over throughout the day. Six no-balls underlined his lack of rhythm. Somerset, it should be noted, would have bowled had they won they toss.
This is a decent pitch, though. Croft, who scored the winning runs here when Lancashire clinched the championship, rated it the best he has seen this season. "There's nowhere better to bat," he said. "Hopefully this will kick start our season."
The way in which one delivery from left-arm spinner George Dockrell took off and leapt over the shoulder of batsman and keeper for four byes suggests that Simon Kerrigan may yet find a little more joy in the surface.
Somerset also expect to hear confirmation of Chris Gayle's availability within the next couple of days. The West Indian, signed for this season's FLt20 is believed to be on the brink of resuming national team duties and may well, as a consequence, become unavailable for Somerset as a result.