Steven Croft's century, plus early breakthroughs by Glen Chapple and Kyle Hogg, have put Lancashire on top against Worcestershire at Blackpool
Lancashire Head Coach Peter Moores is fond of identifying bonus points won in April and speculating as to their value come September. His argument is that we can never know which catch, which innings, or even which piece of fielding will make the difference between collecting silverware or going into autumn potless. Fight for every run, he tells his players, although on the evidence of this season, Glen Chapple's players hardly need to be told any more.
But while Moores's partial anti-determinism may be somewhat difficult to grasp in early May, its validity is unchallenged in mid-August. Thus, when Steven Croft top-edged a hook to long leg early in the afternoon session on the first day of the game against Worcestershire, we could not know how many of Lancashire's title dreams sailed into the Fylde air with the cricket ball.
Croft was on 33 when he miscued Alan Richardson and Lancashire were 126 for four. The Blackpool-born, Blackpool-educated 26-year-old had added 47 with Farveez Maharoof, and this represented a recovery from the position ten minutes before lunch when Paul Horton had edged Moeen Ali to Daryl Mitchell at slip to leave Lancashire on 79 for four.
Horton had made 47, the largest contribution of a tough morning for Glen Chapple's side, who had lost Stephen Moore for four and Tom Smith for nine, both to Richard Jones. That pair of dismissals had sandwiched the departure of Karl Brown, who managed to edge a fine ball from Alan Richardson to slip when he had made 16 in 28 unruffled minutes.
But wait, Croft's skier is still airborne; let us return to it. Under the catch - and it appeared a most straightforward one - was Worcestershire's substitute fielder Nick Harrison. He readied himself to catch it when the sun glinting off a car window, a roof or something else, momentarily blinded him. He lost the flight of the ball, which dropped a few yards to the left of him. Croft batted on, the ultimate consequnces of his let-off unknowable, the immediate results very clear.
On his home ground, the place where he learned so much of his cricket, Croft tore into the Worcestershire attack. He added 87 for the fifth wicket with Maharoof, who made 29 before being caught behind off the persevering Jones and then a further 90 in 13.4 overs with Gareth Cross, who eventually made 39.
Croft's strokeplay and his uninihibited hitting dominated both stands. He reached his 50 in 60 balls and then hit four big sixes and a quartet of fours as he reached his century off only 38 further deliveries.
The Worcestershire spinners came in for rough treatment. Ali was dispatched for consecutive leg side sixes while Shaaiq Choudry conceded 25 runs off two overs as Croft reached his hundred with a six over long-on and also lost a ball over the wall into Stanley Park, a shot which sent the small boys scurrying away on their seek out and return mission.
It was all great fun - although Ali and Choudhry may not have found it so. No one enjoyed it more than the Blackpool members as they watched Croft take the score from 79 to 256 as he made his 111-ball 107, an innings which contained 11 fours and four sixes.
Actually, it's probable that Croft enjoyed it more than the Fylde stalwarts, not least because it was his second successive hundred, not least because he was batting in what was once his own backyard and not least because his own innings was the prelude to Lancashire reducing Worcestershire to 21 for five in less than 12 overs and taking a firm grasp on the game.
Yes, Lancashire lost their last five wickets for just 26 runs in 53 balls to be bowled out for 282 as Gareth Andrew joined Richard Jones in claiming three wickets, this taking place once Croft had been removed by a vicious, rearing lifter from Aneesh Kapil which the batsman could only fend to Mitchell at second slip.
Yes, Andrew and Kapil restored their side's position somewhat so that Worcestershire closed on 77 for five. But Chapple's side still hold the advantage after removing the top five in the visitors' order, all for single figures. Chapple and Hogg did the damage, the skipper getting rid of Vikram Solanki and Alexei Kervezee caught in the slips and Ali lbw padding up to his first ball. At the other end Kyle Hogg had Matt Pardoe taken at second slip by Tom Smith, before bowling Mitchell off the inside edge. Chapple has taken three for 26, Hogg two for nine, and no one woud bet on them not adding to those tallies tomorrow. No wonder Steven Croft is a bit chuffed.
"I'm very pleased to get a hundred, especially on my home ground," he said. "I got low scores in a couple of league games recently, so I was due some runs here. It was a bit tricky because we were three down for not many and it was a bit disappointing how we finished because we were looking to get 300-plus. But we still got a good score and that's given us something to build on.
The only downside to Wednesday's cricket is that Lancashire collected just two batting bonus points. The upside is that they have a good chance of collecting 16 for the win. And without that glint of sun they may not have that chance. You see, you've got to control the controllables and fight for every run.
Photos (c) Simon Pendrigh
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