Lancashire 123 for 4 (Jennings 48) trail Hampshire 187 (Bailey 4-57) by 64 runs
Lancashire's fate seemed so certain on the first morning of this game it would have been almost fitting had the players arrived in a tumbril and then heard the needles of les tricoteuses clicking outside their dressing-room door. Relegation was certain if Yorkshire took two points from their game at Worcester and Nottinghamshire collected five from their home match against Somerset. And even those paltry requirements would be reduced if Liam Livingstone's team failed to take maximum points from a victory at the Ageas Bowl.
But by close of play the guillotine had not fallen. Yorkshire had secured their safety but Nottinghamshire still needed three more points to settle matters. And the irony of all this was that Lancashire had enjoyed rather a good day. Having bowled out Hampshire for 187, their batsmen had reduced the deficit to 64 runs at stumps. Both Keaton Jennings and Liam Livingstone played with far more assurance than any of their opponents had shown, albeit on a pitch which had eased once its morning moisture had departed.
Lancashire dominated the day and in a less fraught week their supporters would be happy. But the dismissal of Jennings, bowled by Ian Holland for 48, and then that of nightwatchman Stephen Parry for a three-ball nought merely reinforced the enormity of the task facing Lancashire if they are to avoid their third relegation in seven seasons.
So rather than Robespierre's Terror, the whole business had the air of an election night. In addition to concerning themselves with matters in their own contest, Lancashire's cricketers knew their survival depended on results from other constituencies. Even on September days as blue and blissful as this one, context is all.
Lancashire's batsmen began their innings knowing they would need to score over 250 to leave them with a straw to clutch on the second day. Their chances of doing so were reduced when Alex Davies had his off stump knocked back by a fine ball from Fidel Edwards in the third over of their reply; they were further diminished when Brooke Guest, who was making his first-class debut, was castled for 8 by Kyle Abbott seven overs later, the ball snaking between bat and pad. Edwards celebrated the 400th wicket of his first-class career, Abbott the 50th of his Championship season. Lancashire supporters exchanged glances of wry recognition. Two batsmen gone early, again. Then news arrived of Nottinghamshire taking a sixth wicket at Trent Bridge. Lancashire's minimum requirement went up to 300.
Yet as so often this season, Lancashire's faster bowlers had fulfilled their part of a team's unspoken compact. Dismissing Hampshire for under 200 in less than two sessions was a plucky effort, even on a pitch offering initial help to seamers. In the absence of Graham Onions, who has "a niggle", Tom Bailey led the attack and took his 60th Championship wicket of the season when last man Edwards smeared a full toss to Livingstone at mid-off.
But all four of Livingstone's quicker bowlers had done all that could reasonably have been expected of them in the morning session. Each of them enjoyed success, with the prize wicket of James Vince being claimed by Josh Bohannon, who nipped one back a shade to have the Hampshire skipper lbw on the back foot for 22. Earlier Joe Weatherley's indecorous cut had only given a catch to Davies and Jimmy Adams' penultimate first-class innings ended after ten balls and for no runs when he edged Bailey to Dane Vilas at third slip. And Lancastrian satisfaction was complete just before lunch when Oli Soames forsook his previous rectitude and poked crookedly at a ball from Saqib Mahmood which cannoned off the bottom edge into the middle stump.
The bowlers enjoyed further successes on the resumption. Bailey finished with 4 for 57 and should be in line for a Lions call this winter. Mahmood, who was playing his first game at the end of a season wrecked by injury, added the scalp of Liam Dawson to that of Soames. Hampshire were indebted to Sam Northeast, who took nearly two hours over his 42 runs and helped the last three wickets add 70 to the total.
However, bowling Hampshire out after choosing to bowl first on a pitch offering help was the easy bit for Lancashire. Scoring the runs needed to put Nottinghamshire under any sort of pressure was always going to be more difficult. Our cricket ended with Livingstone and Vilas preserving their wickets as the sun declined beyond Telegraph Hill. A near impossible task awaits the two Lancashire batsmen on the second day. Even their best may not be good enough. "It's not dark yet," sang Bob Dylan, "but it's getting there."
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications