Paul Edwards enjoys a week full of promise for Luke Procter
At 3.16p.m last Thursday afternoon, Peter Trego ran in from the River End at Taunton and bowled an over-pitched delivery which Luke Procter straight drove to the boundary. Just another four, you may say, one of thousands that are struck during the course of an English season, and a very minor act of defiance on a bad day for Lancashire.
All true, of course, but on an afternoon when Mark Chilton's side were being well beaten by a team who may win their first ever County Championship in a few days' time, it seemed even more important to identify positive signs, and few things do more for one's optimism than the gradual emergence of a cricketer onto the national stage.
Luke Procter is one of the most promising young players at Old Trafford and last week was a good one for him. A match-winning 64 not out in 59 balls against Worcestershire in the CB40 game at Liverpool on Saturday was followed by the four-day match against Somerset in which he scored 19 and 32 and also took the wicket of Nick Compton. (Yes, I know "Compton lbw Procter" sounds like a line from a fantasy match involving players from the past, but in this instance it had a different significance.)
Now I am fully aware that we should be careful about praising young players. Nevertheless, there seemed to me a great certainty about Procter's strokeplay on Thursday afternoon. The 22-year-old has a precise, instinctive understanding of the stroke that needs to be played to each ball that reminded me of the point Michael Henderson made about the beauty and control of Mark Ramprakash's forward defensive shot.
Procter's innings on Thursday - his third in first-class cricket - was nothing like faultless. He was dropped at second slip when he was four, he later edged Trego between Craig Kieswetter and Marcus Trescothick, and he won't be too happy with the swish which ended his innings. Nonetheless, there was a quality about his foot movement and stroke execution during his 143-minute innings which Lancashire supporters may find both familiar and reassuring over coming summers.
"Luke looks like a first-class cricketer, there's no doubt about that," said Peter Moores on Thursday. "He's an exciting talent and the good thing is that he did well in a tough game against a very competitive side. He got in and settled, and then he allowed himself to bat well. Instead of taking the sanctuary of the dressing room, he got stuck in and sold his wicket dearly, which was what was needed at the time. He also took us home in the one-day game and we're hoping for big things for him."
I also had a personal reason to be grateful to Procter on Thursday. That morning I had pulled or torn a back muscle when reaching across the breakfast table for the butter. (Writing it down makes it seem even more pathetic than it was, and I didn't think that was possible.) Anyway, my mobility was severely limited for the rest of the day. A nonagenarian overtook me in North Street and a woman on a motability scooter offered me her seat on the grounds that my need was clearly greater than hers.
Nevertheless, with much abject whimpering, I just managed to climb the stairs which lead onto the roof of Taunton's old pavilion, and it was from that vantage point that I watched much of Procter's innings. Gradually, as one precise shot followed another, the pain lessened and I even recovered a small measure of dignity. But what can we call a cricketer who soothes back trouble? A chiroprocter perhaps?