Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
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Lancashire 32 for 5 trail Essex 391 (Lawrence 120, Snater 72, Browne 71; Bailey 3-61) by 359 runs
Perhaps it was for the best that the two thousand schoolchildren invited to watch today's cricket at Emirates Old Trafford had gone home by three o'clock. They might well have been puzzled why a succession of Lancashire players were walking out to the middle of the lovely green field with bats when it seemed inevitable that they would have to walk back again only a few minutes later having not used them. After all, the other team's batters had stayed there for simply ages in the morning and had kept hitting that hard ball very hard indeed.
As tea-time summaries go, it would not have been too shabby. More experienced, although not necessarily more intelligent, observers might have paid tributes to the powerful striking of Essex's Shane Snater before offering even warmer compliments to the new-ball bowling of Sam Cook and Jamie Porter, whose combined figures at tea read: 13-3-24-4. Neither had conceded a boundary or bowled a mediocre delivery. Before the Essex pair got to work, we thought this was a flattish pitch. It still is, but with Lancashire 32 for 5 in reply to Essex's 391, the value of the new ball was being extolled even as the evening rain set in.
Yet the child's assessment is just as valid and at the risk of giving that drum a bit more hammer, the best thing to happen at Old Trafford today was that primary-school pupils watched the morning's cricket. I say "watched" but a fair few probably divided their attention between Snater, their phones and their friends. Nevertheless, Matt Parkinson was mobbed during a break for rain and Hasan Ali happily acknowledged the hundreds of youngsters who were waving to him from the Brian Statham End.
If one per cent of those enjoying their first taste of the game today have been inspired to take their interest further at a local club, the annual Schools Open Day has been a success and Lancashire's Cricket Foundation should be warmly applauded for laying it on. Moreover, the news that Kings Rise Academy had joined with Warwickshire's Cricket Board to deliver the largest cricket lesson in history to 650 children aged 4-11 at Edgbaston offered a further reminder of the valuable work done by the first-class counties that rarely gets much notice.
That said, perhaps Dane Vilas's players took the educational theme a little too far. "Could have done better" might have been the Old Trafford coaches' assessment on the end of Essex's innings, and "Couldn't have done worse" their damning view on the start of Lancashire's reply.
Certainly the visitors had the better of a rain-interrupted first session, scoring 61 runs in 12 overs for the loss of Dan Lawrence. However, it wasn't much of a morning for Lawrence either. In addition to being caught at midwicket by James Anderson off Luke Wood for 120, he suffered a recurrence of the hamstring injury that had prevented him either playing for Essex or being selected for England.
Yet by the time Lawrence limped away from this game and towards the land of scans and specialists, Snater was already coping easily with the home attack. If Tom Bailey or Luke Wood pitched the ball up Essex's bowling all-rounder - it's hardly a flattering term on this evidence - hit through the line. When they dug it in, he occasionally heaved it away and even collected a six over the long-stop boundary when a top edge flew many yards above Phil Salt's head.
Snater continued in similar fashion after lunch and was only seven short of the career-best 79 he made against Northamptonshire last month when he was nailed plumb in front by a good ball from Hasan. Josh Bohannon's magnificent pick-up and direct hit from midwicket ran out Porter and thereby ended the innings three balls later but Snater's innings had given Essex the psychological advantage.
Less than an hour later, such abstract superiority had been made flesh and dwelt amongst us. Its conduits were Cook and Porter, whose use of the new ball was sixpence and spit away from perfect. Keaton Jennings came half forward to Cook in the fifth over; Peter Hartley didn't need to think for long. Bohannon played across the line to Porter in the eighth and Steve O'Shaughnessy was similarly swift. (Thus one alumnus of Bolton's Harper Green High School sent a fellow alumnus on his way.) Steven Croft edged the next ball low to Alastair Cook's left at first slip. It was eminently droppable but Cook has caught those in bigger matches than this. 8 for 3.
While partners came and went, Luke Wells had been defending grimly and notching singles plus a luxurious two. Then he played no shot to a ball from Cook that tailed back in. Snater replaced Porter and Vilas tried to take the bat away from his fourth ball. Instead, he inside-edged it onto the stumps. Simon Harmer came on to bowl a bit of off-spin from the Brian Statham End and Salt hit him for the first boundaries of the innings, thus sparking congas in the 1864 Suite. Well, it was either that or the case of Gewurztraminer.
Salt and Wood strolled in for tea with Lancashire's coaches perhaps reflecting that this might not have been the time to go into a game a batsman light. The umpires came in, went out and immediately came in again, not to return until the morrow. There were 46 overs to be bowled and they have trod the path to dusty death. But Essex rule the table and might even consider this game child's play. But cricket is not that important. Either way, they'll be whooping it up in Wormingford tonight.
Essex romp to thumping innings victory over high-flying Lancashire
Jamie Porter wrapped up comprehensive win inside 14 minutes on final morning
Simon Harmer, Sam Cook leave much-fancied Lancashire dancing for rain
Essex need one more wicket on final morning after enforcing follow-on
Child's play for Essex's quicks as Lancashire fail to learn their own lessons
Schools Open Day at Old Trafford ends before their new-found heroes crumble with the bat