Steven Croft was the toast of Lancashire after his half-century ensured the Roses Match at Old Trafford ended in a draw
It was Croft's seventh half century of the season, but that seemingly nondescript word "draw" doesn't do it justice of course.
See the highlights later on this website - click on the panel on the right of this page
This game honoured every tradition of this great fixture stretching back to Emmott Robinson, Harry Makepeace and the rest. There may have been fewer spectators present than the 22,500 who crowded into the ground for England's One Day International with Australia on Sunday - 22,200 fewer perhaps - but those who weren't here missed a finish charged with tension as Croft and Kyle Hogg withstood the pressure applied - quite legally - by a pack of predatory fielders. This, to use an adjective beloved of cricketers at present, was a proper match.
In partnership with Hogg, Croft defied the Yorkshire spinners Adil Rashid and Azeem Rafiq for the final 12.2 overs of a tense last hour to secure the three points which take Lancashire up to third place in the LV= Division One table, eight points behind their oldest rivals. Having been set 305 to win in a minimum of 68 overs (later reduced by rain to 58 overs), the Red Rose side finished on 192 for seven as Lancashire's young pair shepherded their team to safety in gathering gloom and with rain threatening.
By the time the players shook hands on the draw, Rashid and Rafiq had crammed 22.4 overs into the last hour and Croft had taken his score to 85 not out, painstakingly compiled in 175 balls of ever-watchful defence and sound defensive technique. At the other end, Kyle Hogg had made just 4 not out in 39 balls but his effort was also essential in helping to preserve Lancashire's unbeaten record in four-day cricket this season.
"Crofty's had a really good year, hasn't he?" said Lancashire's Head Coach Peter Moores in his review of the game. "I think he's started to show what a really good player he is. He's shown another level of batting this year. He's shown a quietness and a calmness at the crease; he's gained a rhythm to playing which seems to show that he's got time and presence at the crease."
"He worked really hard this winter and he's now playing in a nice rhythm. He's quiet at the crease. That doesn't mean you don't play brutal shots, it doesn't mean you don't pounce on the bad ball, but it does mean that you're in control of the situation rather than the opposition and that gives a player presence."
Glen Chapple's side had gone into the final session of the match on 96 for four and reasonably well placed to bat out the 38 overs or more that remained in the game. A half-hour break for rain had made the home side's position even stronger but that situation was to be transformed in the 39th over when Rashid, who bowled beautifully from the Brian Statham End, claimed the wickets of Smith, caught at the wicket by Gerard Brophy for 11, and Sutton, snaffled second ball by forward short-leg Jonathan Bairstow.
Croft reached his fifty with a cover drive off Rafiq but far more significant was the fact that he and Chapple took their side into the final hour of the match with their wickets intact, despite the attentions of as many as seven close fielders. However, Chapple departed when he chipped Rashid to Tino Best at mid-on, thus giving the Yorkshire leg-spinner his eighth wicket of the match and bringing Hogg to the wicket. At the other end Rafiq was unlucky not to take at least one wicket and his final analysis of 20-3-66-0 did him no justice at all. Rashid finished with three for 46 from his 22.4 overs.
The tension of the evening's play was in sharp contrast to most of the morning session in which Yorkshire extended their overnight lead of 200 to a very healthy 304, losing four wickets in the process. Three of these fell to Simon Kerrigan, who operated unchanged from the Brian Statham End and enjoyed his first success as early as the 15th ball of the morning when Anthony McGrath was lbw on the front foot to a delivery which gripped enough to straighten.
Lancashire's hopes of further swift breakthroughs diminished as Gerard Brophy and Adil Rashid added 52 in 17 overs for the sixth wicket, and even after Brophy had been caught at short extra cover by Mark Chilton off the bowling of Daren Powell, Pyrah and Rashid continued to look for runs.
Kerrigan often operated with five man on the boundary but his persistence was rewarded in successive overs from his end when Pyrah failed to connect with a pull and was bowled for 12, and when Best gallivanted gaily down the wicket to have a huge slog and was stumped for six. Rafiq immediately cut Kerrigan to the boundary twice, once late, once square, and Yorkshire had reached 215 for seven when the interval arrived and the declaration was made. Kerrigan ended a game in which he should have learned yet more about bowling spin to county batsmen with figures of four for 77 off 24 overs, while Rashid made 46 not out.
The simple arithmetic of the post-lunch sessions was that Lancashire needed to score 305 in 68 overs to win. The more interesting fact from a Yorkshire perspective was that they needed to take ten wickets to win the game and also assume a commanding position at the top of the LV= Division One table.
Any realistic thoughts of a Lancashire victory vanished in the first eleven overs of their innings. Steaming in from the Stretford End, Yorkshire's Tino Best bowled Stephen Moore for eight with the fifth ball of the innings. The Barbadian then had Simon Katich caught by third slip Adil Rashid when the Australian flashed at a distinctly quick delivery. Raw pace also played a part in the dismissal of Paul Horton who was given out lbw by David Millns for the second time in the match to leave the home side in considerable disarray on 42 for three. Best has been clocked by the Headingley speed gun as bowling at around 93 mph; early on Thursday afternoon it wasn't difficult to believe it.
Mark Chilton added a vital 49 in 18. 3 overs with Croft before he was lbw to Steven Patterson for 23 about ten minutes before tea. By then, however, Rashid had not bowled in tandem with Rafiq, something that didn't occur until 70 minutes before the end of the match.
The result leaves Lancashire eight points behind Yorkshire with a game in hand and seven points behind Nottinghamshire having played one game more.
As to the significance of the draw at Old Trafford, Peter Moores was keen to put the result in the context of the long season. "You never know which are the games which are going to win you something. What you do know, though, is that from the first ball of the Championship in April to the last one you have to pay attention to every ball and every point because you don't know which is the point that wins it for you."