Lancashire's captain Glen Chapple claimed a season's best figures of 6-19 to help shatter Warwickshire on day one at Old Trafford today.
The 35 year-old all-rounder ensured the Bears were bowled out for just 148 inside 45 overs as the Red Rose gained three of the seven points they need to preserve their top flight future in the County Championship.
Five of his six wickets were caught by either wicketkeeper Luke Sutton or slips Paul Horton and VVS Laxman as he took advantage of helpful conditions and poor batting: “I don’t think I swung a ball, it just nibbled around. The odd one bounced off the back of a length,” he said.
His figures of 6-19 from 14.4 overs were the second best of his career, while the ex-England one-day international had also taken 6-34 against Worcestershire at New Road earlier this summer.
In fact, Chapple has now taken six wickets or more five times in the month of September down the years: “I have had a few texts which revolve around me only trying in September! It is just down to pure luck because I try all the way through the season,” he quipped.
“It was important that we had a serious game plan. We bowled well, and things went our way.”
But that wasn’t the end of the clatter of wickets because the hosts, who had been invited to field first, reached 126-4 after 44 overs at close thanks in the main to Laxman’s unbeaten 53 off 108 balls.
Chapple claimed the two wickets of Ant Botha, caught at square-leg by Mark Chilton, and Jonathan Trott, caught behind, in an opening ten-over spell which included six maidens and went for just seven runs.
Sajid Mahmood had Ian Westwood caught behind, and Kyle Hogg forced Ian Bell to clip to Tom Smith at mid-wicket with his first ball to leave the score at 37-4 in the 17th over.
Hogg, who impressed with 2-29 from eight, had Tim Ambrose caught at first slip by Horton two overs later, and Smith bowled Rikki Clarke to have the visitors six down and tottering before lunch.
Just before the break Neil Carter began an entertaining counter-attack by pulling Hogg for six. He later hooked Mahmood and pulled Chapple for further maximums in his breezy 43-ball 59.
But the next ball after his third six, Chapple got his revenge when Carter flashed him to Laxman at second slip to leave the score at 121-7 in the 39th.
Chapple also had Chris Woakes caught behind and Andrew Miller caught by Horton at first in the 41st over before finishing off the innings four overs later when he got Jim Troughton the same way for 48.
“We bowled well this morning, we had a bit of luck, and the nicks came. We also held some good catches,” Chapple assessed.
Lancashire made a sketchy start to their first innings as they lost Horton, lbw to Woakes for three in the seventh over. Smith (23) was then brilliantly caught by Westwood at short-leg off the bowling of Boyd Rankin to leave the score at 44-2 in the 16th.
And Mal Loye was run out by Carter, who saw the batsman napping at the non-striker’s end whilst fielding at mid-on, to have Lancashire three down three overs later.
Laxman and Chilton then shared a stabilising fourth wicket stand of 65 in 20 overs before the latter was trapped in front by Clarke to leave Lancashire 110-4 in the 39th.
This was Laxman’s eighth score of fifty or more in Championship cricket this season. He reached his half-century off 101 balls with nine fours.
Sun shining off the Media Centre roof at the Stretford End of the ground meant that play was abandoned four overs early. Lancashire still trail by 22 runs.
Lancashire started this match knowing that if Sussex beat Nottinghamshire with a 22-point haul they would need seven to be safe. They got three of those today, and are 74 runs away from recording a fourth. If they reach 350 today relegation is no longer an issue.
“We can still technically come fourth, but our immediate goal is to achieve seven points,” said Chapple.
“350 would be great, and we are in a position now where batting well in the morning means we could put a sizeable total together. We need to bat well. We might not need seven points, but that’s another 220 to get.
“We have a really good chance of getting there if we play well.
“I think we were a bit more comfortable than 125-4 suggests. There were a couple of unlucky and soft dismissals. The game’s moved forward quicker than you would imagine, and that means a result is possible. We have to work hard to make sure it’s in our favour.”
Graham Hardcastle reporting from Old Trafford
Photo: Simon Pendrigh