Mark Chilton's sixth half-century in 18 Championship innings this season helped to ensure that an injury-hit Lancashire side drew their high-quality Division One match with Durham on Friday.
Chilton's polished 79 not out in 169 balls featured eight boundaries and one pulled six, and the in-form right-hander shared an unbroken fifth-wicket partnership of 107 with Francois du Plessis, who made an unbeaten 54 from 119 deliveries. The pair had taken Lancashire's second innings total to 163 for four when bad light ended play at 4.30 p.m. at which time there were still 24 overs to be bowled.
However, Chilton and du Plessis had to apply themselves mightily on a slow if firm Old Trafford wicket where rapid run-scoring was always difficult. The condition of the pitch meant that Durham skipper Will Smith's challenge to score 326 in 84 overs on the fourth day was always going to be a difficult one to take up, and especially so after Lancashire had lost four wickets in the first 21.3 overs of their innings.
Few people in the Old Trafford crowd seriously gave Luke Sutton's side a chance of reaching their goal, and that number was surely in single figures after they collapsed to 4 for three in 23 balls. England fast bowler Graham Onions was the chief destroyer, having Paul Horton caught by Dale Benkenstein at short point for three and producing a beauty to have Mal Loye caught behind for a third-ball duck. Callum Thorp joined the party in the next over when he tempted Stephen Parry into a hook which went straight to Onions at long-leg.
Chilton and V V S Laxman got to lunch without further alarm but Lancashire's fortunes declined further four overs after the interval when the Laxman played a trifle crookedly at Onions and was caught at the wicket by Mustard for 23. But rather than simply put up the shutters against the accuracy of Durham slow left-armer Ian Blackwell, Chilton and du Plessis batted stylishly and had added 94 runs by tea when Lancashire were 150 for four.
Half-an hour after the resumption, the gloom persuaded the umpires to take the players off the field to end an enthralling contest which had absorbed good crowds on each of its four days.
"I thought it was a great game of cricket to be involved in and quite different from other games you see - a different surface and different challenges - two good sides going at each other," said Chilton, who passed 8,000 first-class runs during his innings on Friday.
"It was great to be a part of it and pleasing to come out with something from the match. I though Durham might have declared a little earlier because it was always going to be a tough chase on that surface, no matter how well you batted, purely because it was quite easy to shut the game down. The only way we were going to win it was by getting a great start and being in good shape by tea, and that didn't happen.
"There was a bit of pressure on but once you got in, you could build an innings. That was the important thing for Faf and I. Once we got in we knew that we had to be the ones to see the game through.
"I think the pitch firmed up a bit and it didn't break up as much as people expected it to. It was still spinning but it just seemed to get a little bit harder. In the second innings I think batsmen worked out how to bat on the wicket a little better. You don't come across many pitches on days one and two that spin as much as that and it took batsmen a little time to get a game plan together.
Once we'd lost four wickets it was never really on to get the runs without taking massive risks especially with Blackwell bowling over the wicket into the rough. It was a good match-up and a good challenge for some of our younger players."
In the first ten overs of the morning Durham had extended their overnight lead to 325 in the most enterprising fashion. Dale Benkenstein reached his 50 before being brilliantly run out by du Plessis, but Phil Mustard put both Gary Keedy and Stephen Parry to the sword and reached his own half century in 58 balls with four boundaries and a six. Will Smith had seen his batsmen take the total from 256 for five to 320 for six in just ten overs when he declared.
Photo: Simon Pendrigh
(c) Lancashire CCC Ltd