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Haseeb Hameed fifty leads Lancashire hold out against spirited Northants

Workmanlike resistance stretches Lancs' lead over second-placed Glamorgan to seven points

David Hopps
David Hopps
Haseeb Hameed dug in as wickets fell, Lancashire v Essex, Specsavers Championship, Division One, Old Trafford, 2nd day, September 6, 2017

Haseeb Hameed dug in as wickets fell  •  Getty Images

Lancashire 315 (Davies 147, Croft 78) and 275 for 4 (Bohannon 65*, Hameed 55, Vilas 53*, Davies 53) drew with Northamptonshire 442 (Bavuma 103, Vasconcelos 77, Rossington 76, Onions 5-77) and 263 for 9 dec (Keogh 74)
Lancashire have made little secret of the fact that they regard themselves as the strongest all-round side in Division Two, and not too many would argue with that assessment, but for once it was not the bowlers running amok but stubborn resistance from their batsmen that served them well as they seek to regain higher status at the first time of asking.
With three counties to be promoted this season as part of a divisional restructuring, a Lancashire failure would be hard to countenance, but it needed some workmanlike resistance on the final day at Wantage Road to protect their unbeaten record and stretch their lead over second-placed Glamorgan to seven points.
Lancashire never seriously threatened their target of 391 in a minimum of 89 overs, reaching 275 for 4 when stumps were pulled with six overs remaining. The potential for nine overs with the second new ball insisted that a spirited Northants took the game long but in the first over with it Brett Hutton suffered a refused lbw appeal and an edge short of slip in his first over and reality soon dawned.
It is below Lancashire where the jostling really starts in Division Two. Glamorgan are the surprise packet of the season and only 29 points separate the rest, led by Derbyshire, who unexpectedly find themselves third after beating Worcestershire at Kidderminster, and propped up by the perennial strugglers Leicestershire.
Those of a mind to dismiss Leicestershire's chances out of hand risk a pep talk from Paul Nixon until it is mathematically impossible. Forty miles up the M1 at Grace Road, Hassan Azad, knew that only too well, stoutly saying after their defeat against Durham: "We don't feel we are out of it. The table is so close that with five games to go if we can get some forward momentum there is still a chance for us to get in the mix."
At Wantage Road, Haseeb Hameed, given licence to linger, passed fifty for only the second time this season. He was one of four Lancashire batsmen to do so. Alex Davies followed up his career-best 147 with an in-tune 52 and Josh Bohannon (for only the second time this summer) and Dane Vilas both assembled untroubled fifties before a draw was accepted. Make that five fifties if you count the shots played by the next man in, Steven Croft, on the dressing room balcony, his visualised pull shot against the second new ball being particularly impressive.
As ever, though, it was the health of Hameed's game that attracted most attention. He made a century in the opening match of the season at Lord's, bringing excitable predictions that he had rediscovered the form that brought him an England Test debut back in 2016 but another run of low scores has followed. Given a chance with England too soon because too many experts were carried away by the idea of his debut, he has had a long road back.
Wantage Road, all of a slumber, was an afternoon made for his passivity. Even as India lost in the World Cup semi-final, a spectator popped his head in the press box, more concerned with a Dead Ball signal that he thought had been made for four byes. The pitch was benign,Hameed left well and worked the bowling smartly off his pads before he shouldered arms to a turning offspinner from Rob Keogh early in the final session and lost his off stump.
His most anxious phase came against Ben Sanderson after lunch as the lbw decisions (111 for 3 in the 33rd) gave Northants a glimmer of victory. Sanderson on a roll is often when Northants' cricket comes alive. Hameed top-edged a hook over long leg for six and withstood considerable Northants squawking, twice for slip catches that fell short and once for a stumping when his back foot remained entrenched, or maybe it was a catch when there was fresh air between the bat and the ball, or perhaps for taking too long to adopt his guard, or having his short collar at the wrong angle, or just for being there, defiantly.
During Northamptonshire's second innings, Lancashire were without strike bowler Saqib Mahmood, who suffered an abdominal injury that ruled him out of England Lions' squad to play Australia A at Canterbury next week. A shame for a career that is catching light slower than had been hoped.
Northants batted on for five overs at the start of the day, thrashing another 49 runs to add to their 341. The security was necessary because without it a Lancashire run chase could well have claimed the game. As it is, a draw takes Northants fifth and with a new captain at the helm, Adam Rossington, it would not be natural if they did not join the chorus of sides asserting that this will be their year. The clever money, though, would be better put on Middlesex whose Australian coach Stuart Law finally seems to be battering them into some sort of shape.

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

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Specsavers County Championship Division Two