Essex 282 and 292 for 8 (Lawrence 135, Bracewell 61*) lead Lancashire 145 (S Cook 4-42) by 429 runs
Just before play was due to begin at Stanley Park yesterday it was noticed that the stumps were missing.
There were probably moments over the next eight hours or so when Lancashire supporters wished that nobody had bothered to find the bloody things. Even more usefully, perhaps, the locals might have hoped that the rain which delayed the start of our day’s cricket for 45 minutes and then interrupted it briefly in mid-afternoon would hose down for something like 36 hours. Anything to prevent them having to watch their side collapse like a detonated block of flats and then offer as bad a session of outcricket as they have produced all season.
Capitalising gleefully on the home side’s weakness, Lawrence hit nine sixes, losing at least three balls in the adjoining park, reaching his third century with his fifth maximum and hitting four more of the rascals before perishing in the final over of the day when Jennings caught him at long-on for 135, clubbed off 125 balls.
Cricket, however, is rarely so accommodating and the locals’ slumber will be tortured by Essex attack’s merciless demolition of Lancashire’s first innings. Hindered by the Kookaburra ball, which appears to be disliked throughout the county game, but aided by cloudy skies, Tom Westley’s quicker bowlers went to their work with a rare will.
Lancashire’s coaches should not be so forgiving. Essex’s seamers bowled with the ruthlessness of men who sensed an opportunity to establish a match-winning advantage and some of the Lancashire’s top order had to be worked out by their opponents. Jennings, for example, pushed at a delivery from Cook which nipped away and went via the edge to Matt Critchley at second slip.
Other dismissals were almost entirely the batter’s own work. Among the latter group was Dane Vilas, who pushed his second ball into the off side and called Josh Bohannon for a risky single but was well beaten by Bracewell’s direct hit from the covers. Both Rob Jones and Tom Hartley nicked catches when feeling for balls well outside the off stump. And the innings ended on a note of farce as Tom Bailey ducked away from what he believed to be a beamer from Cook, only to see the ball lollop into his stumps.
Dismissed for 145 and already well behind in the game, Lancashire’s bowlers then enjoyed their only decent half-hour of the day. Having been caught at slip for a four-ball duck in the first innings, Nick Browne padded up to Bailey’s third ball of the second dig was sent on his way for a pair. It is doubtful whether the opener will nurture fond memories of Blackpool or, indeed, of Bailey’s bowling.
Next over, Alastair Cook perished, also for nought, when he cut Will Williams straight to Vilas at point and the same bowler accounted for Westley ten overs later. But 27 for 3 and a deficit of 164 was as good as this day got for Lancashire.
Sure, they took five more wickets but those successes were nothing but a backcloth to Essex’s rapid accumulation and there were times when the home side’s disciplines seemed to be disintegrating. The only consolation home supporters can take – and it is a fragment – is that Essex did not declare half an hour before the close and that their openers did not have to risk further indignity on their side’s worst day of the season.
All that Lancashire have to do now is bat out the final day in order to collect five points for the draw. It will test their professionalism rather more than a run-chase would. But at the end of a day when the gulf between two sides has been so plain, a gloomy statistic comes to mind. In the last 40 years Essex have won seven County Championships; Lancashire have managed just the one.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications