Paul Edwards reports on the third day's play at Stanley Park
Sporting victories are made all the sweeter for the quality of the battle needed to achieve them. Beat a poor side by an innings and a trillion runs and you have done your job; beat a very good team by a handful of runs and your cold lager tastes all the better in the afterglow of triumph.
If Lancashire defeat Worcestershire on the fourth day of their match at Stanley Park, they will reflect with contented pride on their performance in the final session of the third day, when, on a cool, windswept Stanley Park, they prised their opponents' fingers off the game.
And no one clung on more tenaciously than Vikram Solanki. The 35-year-old Worcestershire batsman offered ample proof of his class with a 175-ball innings of 107 which, at one stage, looked as though it might guide his side to their distant victory target of 329. They may still get there of course - their topscorers in the first innings have still to bat - but Solanki is gone, caught at slip five overs before the close by Paul Horton for a century which only confirmed him as the classiest of acts, albeit that he is in the veteran category now.
But if one 35-year-old was disappointed on Friday evening, a 36-year-old was quietly delighted with his day's work. Gary Keedy not only dismissed Solanki; he also got rid of Moeen Ali and Alexei Kervezee, both caught at short leg by Steven Croft, during a 20-over spell which cost a mere 38 runs and left Worcestershire on 203 for five, still 126 runs of their goal.
Ali's dismissal for 47 was relatively conventional, the umpire adjudging that the ball had come off bat and pad; Kervezee's belongs in the "what happened next" category as an under edge cannoned to Croft off Gareth Cross's boot. The umpires conferred, there was much nodding of heads, Ian Gould's finger went up, and Kervezee, skulled at short leg in Lancashire's first innings, was on his glum way. It is unlikely he will leave town with an "I Love Blackpool" T-shirt.
The visitors' pursuit of what seemed a distant target had got off to a poor start when Matt Pardoe's loose drive only edged a Glen Chapple delivery to Tom Smith in the third over of the innings and the first after lunch. However, Solanki joined skipper Daryl Mitchell and the pair ensured that Chapple's bowlers made no further breakthroughs with the new ball as they put on 62 runs for the second wicket in just over 20 overs.
Mitchell departed when he was plumb lbw to Chapple for 22, the ball keeping rather low, but Solanki and Ali had added a further 49 runs by tea, when Worcestershire were 116 for two, Solanki having reached his fifty off 69 balls. They had extended their stand to 91 when Ali was pouched by Croft, but Solanki went on to reach his century off 169 balls and he hit fifteen boundaries in all, the most stylish of them strangely at odds with their attritional context.
"It was an extremely tough day," said Keedy. "Worcestershire are a decent side and they've come out and scrapped like mad in this game. All of a sudden, after being in quite a comfortable position we've found ourselves in a proper fight."
That fight had begun in the morning session when Lancashire added 81 runs to their overnight total for the loss of their last seven second-innings wickets. All of Worcestershire's seamers enjoyed operating on the helpful Stanley Park pitch, Gareth Andrew bagging three more wickets to finish with five for 59 and Richard Jones removing Gareth Cross, Kyle Hogg and Karl Brown to take three for 70.
Bowling from the South End, Andrew posed problems for all the batsmen and only Karl Brown played him with much comfort. Lancashire's 23-year-old No3 batted carefully to add 30 runs to his overnight score and had made 85 off 147 balls when he skied Jones to Vikram Solanki, who took a good catch running back from slip.
Apart from Brown, Steven Croft was the only batsman to be dismissed in double figures and he was lbw to Andrew immediately after reaching a 91-ball fifty.
"Worcestershire used the conditions very well today," said Keedy. "The pitch was doing a little bit more a little bit quicker today and Andrew has bowled well all game. They put us under pressure but Brownie batted really well and we'd have taken setting a target of 329 in the final innings. But Vikram's a class player and he has been for a long time.
"This season's been all about scrapping right down to the wire and the simple situation is that if we bowl well and stick to our disciplines, we'll win. We need a good start in the morning."
All of which is true, as is the simple fact that the new ball will be available within the first hour. No one can know how many spectators wil make their way to Stanley Park in the morining; but however the game finishes, it should be worth watching.
Photo (c) Simon Pendrigh
Article is copyright of Lancashire CCC and must not be reproduced without permission