Rob Jones, Luke Wood offer bright glimpses of future on opposing sides
Pair of 22-year-olds dominate second day at Old Trafford while Keaton Jennings falls just shy of a century
Lancashire 276 for 6 (Jennings 97, Jones 67) lead Northamptonshire 230 by 46 runs
Nearly thirty years ago that fine writer Neville Scott collaborated with Geoff Cook on a book entitled The Narrow Line. Subtitled "An Anatomy of Professional Cricket" it examined, among other things, the tests a player had to survive if he was to prosper in the county game. Despite the various revolutions and fandangos cricket has experienced since its publication Scott and Cook's book retains its value. One has only to watch Rob Jones bat or Luke Wood bowl to be reminded of its wisdom and insight.
Both Jones and Wood are finding their way in the game yet these 22-year-olds dominated much of this second day at Emirates Old Trafford. Jones' 152-stand with Keaton Jennings had given Lancashire the opportunity to establish unassailable dominance until Wood, who had removed Joe Burns some five hours earlier, produced a couple of inswingers to account for Liam Livingstone, bowled for a third-ball duck, and Jones, who was leg before on the front foot for 67.
But the wickets of Jones and Livingstone were no more than the filling in an unpalatable post-tea sandwich for Lancashire's batsmen, four of whom fell to the second new ball. Their side's collapse from 188 for 2 to 209 for 6 had begun Ben Sanderson produced a fine lifting delivery which brushed the shoulder of Jennings' bat on the way to Ricardo Vasconcelos. Jennings had made 97 in over five hours and had shown typically firm resolve on a pitch which permits few liberties. Ten overs after his departure, Vasconcelos was called into action again when Steven Croft edged Jamie Overton wide to the keeper's right.
The flurry of wickets ceased when Tom Bailey joined Dane Vilas and this pair had shared an unbroken stand of 67 by the close. That gave Lancashire a first-innings lead of 46 with power to add on the third morning. But as spectators made their way home from Old Trafford this evening it would not be surprising if a few of them were reflecting on the technical excellence of Jones and Wood, two cricketers born three months apart who share a green and white dream.
This is Jones's 15th first-class match. He has been in and out of Lancashire's team since making a brave century against Middlesex in only his third appearance in 2016. He won a regular place in the eleven about halfway through last summer but his place on the team-sheet is now secure. There is no case against selecting a player who makes a century and a 67 in successive games.
Wood, who has a contract at Nottinghamshire, has played over twice as many top-level matches as Jones but has recently been loaned to both Worcestershire and Northamptonshire. His ability to swing the new ball testifies both to his ability and to the strength of seam bowling at Trent Bridge, whose coaches have given him the chance to play elsewhere. The ball which had Burns caught behind in the third over of the day was pushed across the Australian opener whereas that which bowled Livingstone curved in deliciously before plucking out the off pole.
Jones also has the attributes of a formidable cricketer. His forward defensive is cricket's equivalent of a government bond and his driving through the off side possesses the same technical accuracy as his less flashy strokes. Wood could have testified to the latter a few hours before he took his wicket. But this was a day on which batsmen had to wait for their opportunities against an accurate attack. Both Jennings and Jones did so during their 63-over stand and it was a particular shame that Jennings fell three runs short of his century. On the other hand, he would have been dismissed for five runs fewer had Sanderson accepted a simple chance at short fine leg off Rob Keogh just before tea.
Jones still has much to learn. The coaches at Old Trafford will tell him as much and he will take it in. He was dropped on 47 when he failed to cover Overton's bounce and Temba Bavuma grassed a two-handed slip chance many good club cricketers would describe as easy. Four overs later he reached his fifty off the same bowler with a scurried single which was immediately upgraded to a three by a couple of buzzers. And one wondered at tea whether Jones might make the most of his escape to score his second century in three championship innings.
Wood put an end to such notions but the exploits of both these young players were a reminder there are times when we should set aside the easy allegiances of birth, upbringing or partiality. It is Maytime in England. Rob Jones and Luke Wood are attempting to cross the narrow line. The heart dances at the thought they might succeed.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications