Lancashire337 and 204 for 7 (Vilas 74*) lead Durham 281 (Onions 5-93) by 260 runs
For many devoted followers of cricket the big parade has not taken place at Sedbergh these last three days. Affairs at Edgbaston and Chester-le-Street have commanded attention, filled airwaves and ensured there are no spare seats in press boxes. Empires are being challenged in the World Cup - and perhaps replaced. Yet for other, equally enthusiastic supporters of the game there has been nothing else worth watching but the contest in this fell-ringed theatre. International cricket passes them by until the morning papers arrive on the breakfast tables of their hotels. So do posturing politicians; so would minor wars.
And then, at just before a quarter to twelve on this third day, a 36-year-old fast bowler bent down and felt his calf. Suddenly two worlds were joined in mild frenzy. James Anderson, England's best bowler, was injured. Phones rang. Texts bleeped. Where the hell was Sedbergh anyway? When do the Ashes start? Above all, how was Jimmy? Tell us, quickly, tell us NOW!
On the field Graham Onions caused some spectators to speculate for the umpteenth time as to how many Test Matches he might have played had his career not coincided with that of Anderson, of whom he is a great admirer. The former Durham seamer took four wickets in 31 balls against his old mates to finish with 5 for 93. It is Onions' 30th haul of five or more wickets in first-class cricket. Two of the wickets were caught behind but Ned Eckersley and Nathan Rimmington were pinned lbw on the back foot, the later for a well-struck 53. Lancashire took a 56-run lead into lunch.
News emerged of Anderson, who had only bowled eight balls in the morning. Two further attempts to complete run-ups had been abandoned and Sam Byrne, the Lancashire physio, had come out to meet him on the steps of the Knowles Pavilion, a building which has no doubt seen its share of tears over the decades. Burnley's finest had suffered tightness in his right calf. He would not bowl again in the game but might bat. He will be assessed. The ECB's bulletin would have to satisfy the frantic text-senders. Good luck with that.
Yet perhaps it was curiously fitting that Anderson should suffer the injury at a school whose motto is Dura Virum Nutrix (Stern Nurse of Men). Anderson has been known to be a trifle grim, even in moments of triumph, and he was certainly in need of nursing. Moreover, the motto of his own school, St Theodore's in Burnley, Avita Pro Fide: (For the Faith of our Ancestors) is absolutely bugger all use when you've gone in the fetlock.
Almost immediately Lancashire's blazered supporters, who have gathered in two temporary stands at the Powell End, had even more pressing pains with which to deal. Chris Rushworth found the channel on or outside off stump in his first over. Keaton Jennings edged the first ball of the innings to Ned Eckersley; Haseeb Hameed, the fourth to Cameron Bancroft at slip. Lancashire 0 for 2.
Alex Davies was joined by Liam Livingstone, who immediately batted with his characteristic contempt for half measures. If he defended, the drawbridge was pulled up; if he attacked, the kitchen sink, washing machine and waste-bin were thrown at the ball. Six boundaries followed, some of them reminiscent of Kevin Pietersen. Livingstone flicked Brydon Carse through midwicket and drove Nathan Rimmington through mid-off. A major innings beckoned, one which might define the match and transcend the pitch's variable bounce. But the first time Livingstone could not decide between the fish or meat course he edged Raine to Bancroft and departed for 36. By then Davies had gone too, caught on the boundary when miscuing Rimmington. And in the over after Livingstone's dismissal, Rob Jones was beaten by Liam Trevaskis's throw from the boundary and run out for five. Lancashire were 59 for 5 and their lead was 115.
But if Anderson is a competitor whose galaxy of skills is underpinned by a fierce professionalism, so is his county captain. Some skippers change the bowling; Dane Vilas changes the team he leads. He will not ask any young players to go into the trenches if he has not led him there and faced the bullets, too. Cricketers like Jones and Josh Bohannon could not have a better leader in seasons when they are coming to understand how tough - and how glorious - the life of professional cricketer can be.
Steven Croft, for whom this season has been a lovely late renaissance, is hewn from similar rock. He joined Vilas in an 87-run partnership which may be seen as the most important of the match. If Durham's seamers overpitched, Vilas malleted them through midwicket; if they pitched it short Croft hooked them on his way to 35. Home supporters decided that a tub of Howgill Fellside Ice Cream might be in order; it is glorious stuff. In the small hospitality area a drink or two was taken. Sedbergh staff looked at the field they knew so well and marvelled anew. It is only love.
Then Croft received a ball from Rimmington which pitched on off stump and stayed there. The former skipper had no hope at all but dropped his bat and then kicked it. Durham's fielders celebrated but some may have recognised that Lancashire's lead was already 202 and the visitors will have to get those runs. Bohannon made a useful 23 and Saqib Mahmood was unbeaten on 11 at the close when Vilas had 74 runs against his name. The skipper had taken blows to the arm and hand but was still there. Unvanquished as ever.
Suddenly memories of Anderson's injury began to fade a little but the evening news bulletins were now mad with hunger for news. They will be less ravenous tomorrow when the big parade will be at Chester-le-Street. But at Sedbergh we will watch the last day of a great game. The people up here, and maybe the cricketers, too, deserve something to cherish.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications