Glen Chapple led a Lancashire fightback in the Roses Match at Old Trafford today after the Yorkshire top order made a great start to the first day.
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"Fancy being paid to play sport all the summer," people often say when they think about the life of a professional cricketer. And many players would agree quite readily. They know that they are fortunate; they also know that their position on a county staff is often the result of countless hours of dedicated practice. But they are also well aware that they, too, like the commuters on the overcrowded morning train from Parbold, can have tough days at the office.
Which is rather what happened to Lancashire's cricketers on Monday. For the first two sessions of the 262nd Roses Match they greeted the fall of a wicket rather as desert travellers welcome an oasis.
Only in the final hour, when Lancashire claimed the five wickets of Anthony McGrath, Gerard Brophy, Adil Rashid, Azeem Rafiq and Tino Best, did the bowlers' successes come as anything more than isolated triumphs. As a result of these late sucesses, though, the match goes into the second day much more evenly poised than had seemed likely at around five o'clock.
For during most of Monday, Yorkshire's batsmen, led by in-form opener Adam Lyth, who made exactly 100, had taken full advantage of the chance to have first use of an flat batting wicket situated on the south side of the square.
Consequently, Glen Chapple's bowlers were made to labour hard for any breakthroughs they made.
Lyth is in prime form. His last nine innings (including his century at Old Trafford) have been 84, 85, 47, 142, 93, 133, 98, 0 and 100. He certainly showed no signs of the Monday morning blues in a first session in which he raced to to 84 not out in only 97 balls and at one stage threatened to become the first player to score a century before lunch on the first day of a Roses Match at Old Trafford.
The Yorkshire opener's tally in the morning session included 14 crisp boundaries and it exactly doubled that of his partner Jacques Rudolph, whose 42 not out was scored off only eight fewer deliveries.
So much in control did Lyth seem that it was one of the surprises of the day when he was dismissed only two balls after reaching his century when a leg glance off Tom Smith found the safe gloves of wicketkeeper Luke Sutton. By then, though, he and Rudolph had put on 166 for the first wicket and laid the foundations for a formidable first innings total on a pitch that may yet help the Yorkshire spinners Adil Rashid and Azeem Rafiq.
Rudolph followed eleven overs later when he fenced a lifting delivery from Daren Powell to Smith at second slip, and the Liverpool-born 24-year-old completed a satisfactory day when he had Jonathan Bairstow caught off the leading edge by short extra cover Simon Katich when he had made 47. That left Yorkshire on 299 for three, one run away from their third bonus point at the moment when Lancashire claimed their first.
But Powell's day improved mightily twelve overs before the close when he induced Antony McGrath to bottom edge an attempted cut onto his stumps at the point when the Yorkshire batsmen was threatening to match Lyth by scoring a hundred in a Roses match.
By the close, Brophy, Rashid, Rafiq and Best had all followed McGrath to the pavilion. The first of these was lbw on the back foot to Chapple and the second was the victim of a brilliant snare by point fielder Steven Croft who dived to take a one handed catch high to his right. Rafiq was caught behind by Sutton and Best top-edged the ball back to Chapple.
The Lancashire skipper's four wickets for 12 runs in 26 balls changed the balance of the game. In the last 12 overs of the day Yorkshire lost five wickets for 35 runs.
"Some of the bowlers struggled to hit their areas consistently today," said Chapple. "They were bowling good stuff and then leaking the odd boundary in places you can't protect. They scored 130 or so in the first session and 130 in the second session. That's four an over and we aim to go at under threes.
"On a good pitch, we're still in the game. We''ll have to take the next two wickets as quickly as we can and then bat well, but all the results are still possible whereas at one stage today we were looking at trying to get a draw out of it.
"Professional teams need to be able to play for six hours. Any side that's going to challenge for the Championship needs to be able to commit for that length of time and we did that."
Chapple's words endorse the view that this was a day - like most days - that showed the value of maintaining a tight line and length. Chapple (23-5-60-4) and Smith (23-6-66-2) did the needful. Simon Kerrigan (18-1-89-0), without bowling very badly, perhaps learned a great deal about what being a professional cricketer is all about.
"Simon found it tough today but there's no doubt he'll come back," said Chapple. "He was bowling a good ball and he'd look like taking a wicket and then he'd leak a boundary. He was operating in the first session on a flat pitch against two good players."
Well quite. And tomorrow, Simon Kerrigan will turn up for work again.
Paul Edwards at Old Trafford
Photo: Simon Pendrigh, Peakpix Digital Images
(c) Lancashire CCC Ltd