The contrasts confronting the 21st century county cricketer were vividly illustrated at Aigburth on Tuesday afternoon.
Twenty-four hours earlier Tom Smith had celebrated his latest return from injury by malleting the Worcestershire attack around and beyond New Road in making 106 off just 46 balls. A few records were broken, the spectators were royally entertained and more or less everyone was pleased for Tom, who is one of the most likeable players on the circuit.
All the same, Smith's volcanic innings in the CB40 match will have no significant impact on Lancashire's season: Glen Chapple's men had already secured their place in Saturday's semi-finals. On Tuesday, though, Smith had to bat again and this time his innings was vital, for he went to the middle at Liverpool with his team tottering on 11 for four and Durham's Graham Onions at the very top of his considerable form. It was no place for Monday's cricketing jeux d'esprit.
Fortunately for Lancashire followers, Smith is abundantly capable of batting in a number of styles and tempi. Nearly five hours later after he trooped out to face the Durham bowlers the left hander was climbing up the steps of the famous old pavilion with an unbeaten 86 runs to his credit, many of them painstakingly accumulated against an attack which needed to be defied before it could be dominated.
Thanks to Smith and his three major partners, Lancashire were far better placed at the end of Tuesday's play than anyone had thought possible when Onions had uprooted Steven Croft's off stump in the eleventh over of innings. By the close, indeed, the home side were 221 for six, with Smith's effort having been skilfully supported by Kyle Hogg who had contributed 36 to an unbroken stand of 91 for the seventh wicket. Suddenly, we noticed, Lancashire had a bonus point? What were the odds against that at 2.15pm?
Smith faced 177 balls for his unbeaten 86 on Tuesday and at one stage he went 38 balls without scoring, which was nearly as long as his complete innings on Monday. He hit fourteen boundaries but these blows punctuated an effort which was characterised far more by resolute defence and the riding of luck than by extravagant strokeplay.
The left-hander needed plenty of help too. This was provided first by Ashwell Prince who helped Smith see off the new-ball attack and had shared in a fifth-wicket stand of 47 when he top-edged a pull off Ben Stokes straight to Mark Stoneman at deep square leg and departed for 31.
Then Gareth Cross and Smith took the score beyond three figures and blunted the threat of Paul Collingwood's seven-man attack with a 72-run sixth-wicket partnership. Cross had hit six boundaries in his 79-ball innings of 57 when he played over the top of a full-length ball from Stokes.
The efforts of Prince and Cross in company with Smith changed the balance of the match. In early afternoon Lancashire's 2011 total of 84 against Durham had seemed under threat. But when Cross was out Chapple's team was reasonably placed on 130 for five and a platform had been constructed for the pleasing fluency of Hogg, whose 83-ball innings contained four boundaries among an array of well-timed strokes.
Yet while Lancashire supporters will remember Tuesday's play for the skill of Smith, they might also recall it for the skill of Onions. A wet outfield caused play to begin at 1.30 and restricted us to only 75 overs; after 45 minutes' cricket, however, there were many home supporters who feared that Durham would be batting in the evening session. If they had been, Onions's bowling would have had a large say in the matter.
Opting to bat first, Lancashire were soon in trouble against the England seamer who took three for 15 in an outstanding eight-over spell from the River End. He struck first in the fifth over when he bowled Paul Horton for three, the opener playing no stroke to a ball which clipped the off stump. Karl Brown followed eight balls later for a duck when he edged Chris Rushworth to second slip Scott Borthwick and Onions made it three wickets for the visitors in 13 balls when Luke Procter's drive also found the safe hands of Borthwick.
Steven Croft defended gamely for 11 balls before losing his off stump to an Onions delivery which kept low and there were fears that Lancashire would eclipse their lowest total of the season, 63 against Worcestershire. Thanks to Smith et al. these proved unfounded.
"Monday was a great day for myself, but it was nice to get some runs in what is a crucial Championship game," said Smith as he reflected on the day's play. "You can’t really compare the two knocks because today was one of those days where you had to dig deep.
“My game plan is pretty simple. Let the bowler bowl at me, anything outside I leave. Onions is an international-class bowler and he was at my end for quite a while and didn’t give me anything to hit. But Gareth was scoring at the other so I didn’t really have to – it was all about building a partnership."
Onions finished with three for 26 off 20 overs. Stokes took two for 60 from 13 overs but every Durham bowler found Lancashire's later batsmen in resolute mood on an absorbing day.
Article (c) Lancashire CCC Ltd
Photo of Tom Smith during his undefeated innings of 86 (c) Barry Mitchell