Lancashire made a late, dramatic bid to snatch victory on the final day's play at Aigburth today. Paul Edwards reports
Cricket matches have this annoying habit: just when you think they are going to sleep, they leap up and bite you on the....nose.
So it was at Aigburth on Thursday evening. With a maximum of seven overs left in the game, Warwickshire were 210 for five and had no chance of scoring the 290 runs they needed to beat Lancashire. Neither, surely, had Glen Chapple's bowlers much chance of taking the five wickets they needed to secure the win that would have taken them top of the LV= First Division table.
Then Rikki Clarke edged Gary Keedy to Paul Horton at slip and was out for 12. Very nice for bowler and fielder, we thought, but it really isn't going to disturb the fundamental architecture of the game. This view was only strengthened by the next five overs, in which Warwickshire wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose took his score to 66 but nothing of match-changing significance occurred.
Steven Croft and his off-spin bowling changed all that. With the first and fifth balls of his over, the penultimate of the game, he bowled Chris Woakes and Jeetan Patel. By now, both the Aigburth crowd and the Lancashire side were sensing that a dramatic victory might be on the cards. The game was so tense that even cricketers who were not playing in the match, like Samit Patel, were demanding to be involved.
Well, Ambrose played out Keedy's final over and the game ended in a draw. Warwickshire finished on 217 for eight, but it was still gripping stuff.
With Durham's match against Nottinghamshire not finishing until Friday the six points from the draw against Warwickshire leaves Lancashire still in second place, with Somerset, who beat Sussex on Thursday, six points further back and Warwickshire three points behind Marcus Trescothick's side but with a game in hand. The season is set for a thrilling last month or so.
"It was a great game of cricket," said Lancashire coach Peter Moores, as he reflected on Thursday's entertainment. "Both sides got stuck in and had opportunities to win it and it is a shame we didn’t have another session."
Earlier in the day, Warwickshire had bowled out Lancashire for 390 which left them with that target of 290 off 75 overs, later reduced by rain to only 67.
Needing to score at a rate of 3.87 runs an over at the start of their innings , Warwickshire issued a declaration of purpose by opening their innings with Neil Carter, who normally only occupies that position in their limited-overs games. Carter and Varun Chopra made a brisk start either side of showers and lunch, scoring 72 in 15.4 overs before the left-hander meekly guided Sajid Mahmood to second slip Tom Smith when he had made 25.
That dismissal began a brief collapse which saw Warwickshire lose four wickets for 20 runs in seven overs. The chief architect of their decline was Keedy, who completely beat Will Porterfield in the flight and accepted the return catch, before having Troughton caught by Smith at leg slip for a duck.
Sandwiched between these breakthroughs, Kyle Hogg had claimed the key wicket of Chopra, who, having batted beautifully for 46, slashed a wide delivery to Horton at first slip. That uncharacteristic dismissal leaves Chopra 38 runs short of a thousand Championship runs for the season.
With 45 overs left in the game, Lancashire had plenty of time to press home their advantage, but Ambrose joined Laurie Evans and the pair used up 27 of those overs in a 68-run parnership for the fifth-wicket partnership which only ended when Evans, who made a gritty 92-ball 30, was caught at slip by Smith off Kyle Hogg.
This stand rather took the steam out of Lancashire's push for victory, especially when Ambrose then added a further 50 for the sixth wicket with Clarke. Keedy finished with three for 53 while the demon Croft claimed two for ten from his seven overs. Kyle Hogg picked up two for 43.
The draw is the first in ten matches at Aigburth since 2004 but Lancashire are still very much in the hunt for that championship and Peter Moores identified plenty of good things which he could take from the game.
"We did well to bowl them out for 280 in their first innings and then come back with 390," he said. "Once Croft and Brown put on that partnership of 208 we were favourites to win the game.
“Crofty has played so well in one-day cricket and he got very frustrated it hasn’t happened for him in the four-day game. I just hope now that his century is the launching pad for him for the rest of the season because we have some big games ahead of us."
“I don’t think we need to win all four of our matches to secure the championship," he said. "If we won two we would be in with a shout, three and we would be in with a very big chance and if we do win all four we will definitely win it. It depends on who holds their nerve and who has players in form at the right time."
Reports: Day 1 I Day 2 I Day 3
Photos (c) PA Images, Simon Pendrigh
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