Lancashire's top order, led by opener Mal Loye's 55, showed indications that they are returning to some kind of form with an encouraging start to their second innings against Hampshire at Liverpool today.
Hampshire had been given a more than useful first innings lead of 137 on the third day thanks to 108 off 129 balls from captain Dimitri Mascarenhas and a 112-ball 86 from wicketkeeper Nic Pothas.
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Two wickets in two balls for Andrew Flintoff after lunch, those of Dominic Cork caught at first slip and Chris Tremlett caught at short-leg, had reduced the visitors to 235-8 in reply to Lancashire’s 208.
But England one-day international Mascarenhas expertly marshalled the tail to reach 345 and record his eighth first-class career ton in the process. When Tremlett went to Flintoff to leave the score at 235-8 Mascarenhas had 31, and he was desperate to protect the new batsman James Tomlinson.
He refused singles at the start of the over and pinched them at the end, scything at anything and everything in between. He and Tomlinson shared 78 for the ninth wicket, and the former recorded 69 of them. Imran Tahir replaced Tomlinson, caught behind by Luke Sutton off the bowling of Glen Chapple, and proceeded to whack 24 off nine balls before Mascarenhas top edged Sajid Mahmood to Sutton to end the innings.
Andrew Flintoff celebrates after dismissing Chris Tremlett for a first ball duck
“We saw someone go out there and block up one end - and if it is your day, it is your day,” said Loye. “It was his day, he played his shots, and I thought he played pretty well. He is a quality player in that situation, and he got a good lead. It’s frustrating, and I don’t think we bowled as well as we could in that situation. We probably expected to roll them over. They had a good game plan, and they stuck to it. Poor old Chappie was tearing his hair out.”
Lancashire were, therefore, under the cosh, but Loye hit seven fours in 107 balls to help the Red Rose reach 144-2 at close. Paul Horton notched 39 and Flintoff closed the day unbeaten with a confidence boosting 36 off 61 balls. Horton and Loye recorded an opening partnership of 83, the highest opening stand of the four-day summer so far, and Loye said: “We needed a good start because we didn’t want to give them a sniff.
“We have lacked a big partnership for the last few weeks. We talked about it, and we were pretty pleased with the partnership. Hopefully the lads down the order can get some partnerships as well.”
This was Loye’s highest score since 61 against Somerset at Taunton last September, although he has been out injured until the start of the month: “That was the best that I have played for a long time,” continued the Loye. “But I am disappointed if anything because I want to get hundreds. As soon as I got in, that is what I was looking at.”
While this was Loye’s 2009 best, it was also England all-rounder Flintoff’s. But he is another who has only just returned to action after seven weeks out because of knee surgery. Freddie, who returned 2-60 from 17 overs with the ball, was dropped on one by leg-spinner Tahir off his own bowling before crashing seven boundaries to replicate Loye, who said: “After he got dropped, he played his natural game.”
With Lancashire leading by just seven runs with eight second innings wickets in hand, they are still on the back foot. But, if Flintoff and Kyle Hogg get going in the morning, they still have an outside chance of forcing a win on the final day.
Realistically, all three results are possible with the draw being the most likely.
[Day 2 Report] Day 1 no play-rain
Photos: Simon Pendrigh
(c) Lancashire CCC Ltd