Oldham seamer Luke Procter enjoyed a golden half-hour or so with the ball on the first day of the LV= County Championship match against Essex at Emirates Old Trafford, but Lancashire's fielders were left to reflect on what might have been as they twice dropped visitors' centurion Graham Napier before he had reached fifty.
The 33-year-old Essex all-rounder went on to make a very responsible 102 not out off 178 balls and guide his side to a first innings total of 226 all out, although Glen Chapple's bowlers can still be pleased with their efforts on what seems a good cricket wicket. However, some of the gloss was taken off the Red Rose day when Paul Horton edged Reece Topley's lifting last ball of the day to wicketkeeper James Foster and Lancashire finished on 7 for one.
None of Chapple's bowlers can be happier than Procter, though, who took four wickets for eight runs in 28 balls in the middle of a 13-over spell either side of lunch.
First the Oldham all-rounder brought one back off the seam to have Rob Quiney lbw for 21 three overs before tiffin. But it was after the interval that the seamer really got into his stride, claiming the prize wicket of Alastair Cook caught behind by Gareth Cross when he slanted one across the England skipper, trapping lbw Mark Pettini for a duck and then having a driving Jaik Mickleburgh pouched at third slip by Ashwell Prince when the Essex man drove rather loosely.
It could have been even better for Procter too. Paul Horton grassed a chance offered by Napier at first slip when the hard-hitting all-rounder was on nine and Lancashire had to wait 23 overs for their next success, James Foster edging Wayne White to Cross when he had made 24 out of a sixth-wicket stand of 54.
Procter then dropped a sharp caught and bowled chance offered by Napier when the batsman was 32, and it was left to Stephen Parry, playing his first Championship match since 2009, to take the next two wickets, Tim Phillips being trapped lbw for seven and the ex-Lancashire favourite Sajid Mahmood being caught at deep midwicket by Karl Brown when he had made only ten.
Brown then ran out David Masters with a direct hit from point for three but Napier took the arrival of last man Reece Topley as a licence to attack and he twice deposited Glen Chapple over square leg, the second of these mighty blows bringing up a century which had included ten fours and two sixes.
This landmark probably only exacerbated Chapple's frustration as the Red Rose skipper had dropped a skier off Napier the previous ball when the batsman was 93. Napier and Topley scampered two runs to set up the batsman's moment of glory.
The Lancashire skipper then had Topley lbw for nought but Procter, with 4-66 off 22 overs, finished with comfortably the best bowling analysis. Parry bowled tightly to take 2-24 off 15 overs.
"I think it was a good effort to get them out for 226 and it's put us in good stead to build a good reply tomorrow." said Procter. "It was swinging about early but the ball got a bit soft later on and it didn't move as much. It's always good to get the England captain out though.
"We've now got to bat all day tomorrow and look to bat past Essex," he added. "The aim will be to get maximum batting points by reaching 400 and then try and bowl Essex out again.
"The pitch has a few green tufts but it's a bit quicker and it does a little bit more with the new ball. But other than that it looks okay and the first hour will be important tomorrow, especially if we can get the shine off the new ball. We could have had them out for 170 if we'd caught our chances but we'd have settled for bowling them out for 226 at the start of today.
"Napier's innings showed that you can get runs if you apply yourself and in Prince and Katich we have two Test batters, so hopefully we can go on and go big tomorrow."
Photo of Luke Procter (c) Simon Pendrigh