Visiting openers negotiate tricky passage to cut arrears before early close
Sussex 301 and 38 for 0 trail Lancashire 339 for 5 (Vilas 189) by 68 runs
A day that began with snow at Emirates Old Trafford ended with bad light at 4.30pm followed by rain, sleet and a premature dusk tugging at the sky’s skirts. In between those meteorological events, one of them eccentric, another inevitable, we had a day of shreds and patches in which Lancashire established a first-innings lead of 106, only for Sussex’s openers to reduce the advantage to 68 without too many alarums. If Dane Vilas’s bowlers hear any dreamy lullabies this evening, they will worry early wickets in good weather on the morrow. One cannot like their chances with the weather but the pressure exerted by Saqib Mahmood and Tom Bailey will warm the home coaches this evening. Merciful God, something needs to.
There are days in the close season when one arrives at this ground and observes with sage joviality that cricket would be impossible. The rain is icy and gray skies complete the wintry aspect. This was one such morning. Friday’s improvement in the weather had been brief. Folk arrived from distant parts – well, Skelmersdale anyway – with talk of snow. Sleet speckled the morning air, sending the already euphoric photographers scurrying for their cameras. A thrush perched outside Exchange Quay looked so beruffled it might have been a distant descendant of Thomas Hardy’s possibly percipient bird.
Discussed, play got under way and things immediately proceeded as much as they had on Friday: Dane Vilas pushed Sean hunt to deep point and took a single. At times one believes Lancashire’s captain would look to keep the scoreboard moving in the aftermath of nuclear winter. Rather like Don Bradman or Alastair Cook, he finds the tedium of incessant accumulation most congenial.
One imagines Hunt will be particularly glad we got on the field. A Guildford lad who played all his age-group cricket for Surrey, Hunt took his maiden first-class wicket, that of Alex Davies, on Friday afternoon and nearly 24 hours later he got two more legs before decisions from Neil Bainton when Luke Wood and Danny Lamb played around very straight balls. In a match where more experienced bowlers have been taken out, Hunt can take pride in having adhered to his disciplines.
The next wicket was taken by George Garton, who stopped the ball off his own bowling and ran out the non-striking batsman, Bailey, for 24 when he and Vilas were negotiating a single. Another “shall-we? Shan’t we?” total balls-up resulted in Tom Hartley being run out by Stiaan van Zyl for 4 but by then Lancashire had a full bag of bonus points. Almost immediately Vilas was dropped by the scampering wicketkeeper, Ben Brown, when he top-edged a skyer towards long leg. The escape counted for nothing but entertainment. Next over Lancashire’s captain was caught at deep point by Aaron Thomason for 189 when reverse-sweeping Carson. It is the eleventh time Vilas has passed 150 in his 22 centuries.
Our season is barely three days old yet there has been so much to learn. Brown’s bowlers, two of them Championship debutants, can reflect on their first experience of big school. Carson, for example, could have rejected both Davies and Vilas quite cheaply on Friday afternoon but instead ended the innings with 2 for 106 from his 24.4 overs. Every inaccuracy was seized upon and punished. In that context Brown’s decision to give his young offspinner second and third spells on Friday, and then more bowling on Saturday, suggests Carson has the steel to prevail and will, in time, repay his skipper’s faith. By September we shall all know more about the matter.
We will know more about Tom Haines and Thomason, too, but what they revealed this afternoon was a shrewd awareness of their responsibilities and a determination to defend the commonwealth. The pair had to face a very tough examination from Bailey and Mahmood with the new ball but the nearest Lancashire came to a breakthrough was when Haines miscued a drive over Josh Bohannon’s head at cover. Were Sussex to have been 38 for 2 at the close we would be considering a very different final act to this drama. As things are, a draw is the most likely outcome and the only things a fellow can ask of this evening are a hearty supper and an improving book. Patrick kavanagh’s The Green Fool seems about right.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport visiter and other publications