Lancashire claimed the first innings honours on an enthralling day at Liverpool
Forget for a moment the cheers when a wicket falls or a batsman reaches a century. Very often the best test of a crowd's enjoyment of a day's cricket is their silent absorption in the game. Ensorcelled by the intensity of the contest, thinking themselves neither barmy nor an army, they simply watch.
I was reminded of this in the post lunch session at Aigburth today as Nick Compton and James Hildreth attempted to shepherd their side's first innings towards Lancashire's total of 189. Glen Chapple, Ajmal Shazad and Simon Kerrigan were bowling well on the slow wicket and neither batsman had the mastery of them; by the same token, Compton and Hildreth's defence was sure as they took the score from a parlous 6 for two at lunch to the half-century mark.
A quietness greater than silence descended during this passage of play and the great old ground held it close. The shouts of the players or the occasional crack of the ball on bat punctured that quietness but it soon re-established itself as the spectators settled back into the contest.
Suddenly, a breakthrough. Compton, having become the first player this season to score a thousand championship runs when he reached 13 with a pulled four off Chapple, tried to sweep Kerrigan and was lbw. It was the 23-year-old's 100th first-class wicket and it marked the start of Lancashire's best passage of play in a Division One match for a week or two.
In truth, it probably signalled the beginning of a period of cricket Glen Chapple's men needed in a championship game after the Worcestershire defeat. The four-man attack combined well to take eight wickets for 99 runs, bowl Somerset out for 149 and give their side a valuable 36-run lead going into Friday morning. Quite how valuable we will probably be able to assess on Saturday.
Briefly, though, it seemed that Kieswetter and Hildreth would re-establish Somerset's parity. But two wickets fell in as many balls: Kieswetter had hit Kerrigan beautifully over long off and he had cut him when he pitched short. Now he tried to hit against the spin and skied a simple catch to Paul Horton at backward point. Next ball, Hildreth, after making a self-denying 45, played across the line to Shazad and his off stump tumbled away like a shot rabbit.
As if comprehending the change in the game - Somerset were 89 for five - the weather broke. Heavy rain soaked Aigburth, quickly followed by sunshine. Thanks to the umpires' executive control and the actions of the sprinting groundstaff, we lost just six overs.
Lancashire returned and their bowlers laid siege to the batsmen. Peter Trego cracked four boundaries but his leading edge was taken by Steven Croft at point to give Shazad his second wicket. Three overs later Alfonso Thomas tried to lap Kerrigan but the ball rapped the pad. Another lbw and Somerset were 124 for seven.
The last three wickets fell for three runs as Hogg brought one back to defeat Buttler's half-forward push and then bowled Gemaal Hussain, who had spent most of an hour dropping the ball in front of him like an obedient gun dog laying game at his master's feet. Chapple replaced Hogg, who had cramp, and bowled Kirby for nought to end the day.
The Lancashire skipper took three for 38 and Kerrigan had three for 47 from 22 overs of probing. Hogg and Shahzad had two apiece. It was a sterling day's work by the Old Trafford bowlers.
In the morning session Lancashire had lost their last five first-innings wickets for 56 runs, three of them to Thomas who finished with four for 63. Trego did not add to his first-day haul but he made a significant contribution to his side's fortunes by pouching a slip catch off Kirby to remove Andrea Agathangelou.
However, it had already been a pleasing morning for the South African-born cricketer who was making his Championship debut. He had looked one of his side's most polished and composed batsmen in making 24 off 59 balls; his first mistake, an edged forward push off Kirby, was his last. Kirby also had Kerrigan caught at slip and finished the innings with two for 40. Many in the crowd doubted that 189 would be enough
Yet there was drama just before lunch. Indeed, the home supporters received an immediate intimation of resistance when Chapple claimed two wickets in successive overs from the River End: first Lancashire's standard-bearer induced Arul Suppiah to play the fifth ball of the innings onto his own stumps; he then grabbed the prize wicket of Marcus Trescothick, who shaped to play Chapple to leg but only edged the ball to Stephen Moore in the gully.
These were moments which somehow built upon Agathangelou's classy resistance and served to encourage spectators that this was not to be Somerset's day. Emboldened by such hope, they settled down to watch the afternoon's cricket.
Day 1 Report
Article (c) Lancashire CCC Ltd
Photo - James Hildreth is bowled by Ajmal Shahzad (c) Simon Pendrigh