Northamptonshire 302 for 5 (Gay 144, Procter 75) vs Lancashire
Sporting fashion is so contagious that every time a county has departed from cricket’s orthodoxy this season or sought to force the pace in a match, local commentators have sought to label it some variety of England’s current tactics. Lancashire have not been immune from this piffle – Chazball is a current favourite, even though Glen Chapple, their head coach, is about as funky as a saint’s sock-drawer. Nevertheless, even on a day when Northamptonshire enjoyed one of their best days of the Championship season, it should be noted that Jack Morley and Tom Hartley were bowling in tandem at 2.10pm this afternoon.
By the time he was dismissed six overs before the close when attempting a tired drive at a ball from the excellent George Balderson, Gay had made 144, his fourth first-class century and one run short of his career-best. His languid drives between point and mid-on, mixed with secure defence, had also offered some confirmation of a talent that was blighted by a knee injury at the start of the season and then cursed by the worms of uncertainty that can slither into any cricketer’s head when he wonders if and when the next big innings is coming.
So the impressive thing about Gay’s hundred today was that his batting reflected none of this self-doubt. Yes, he was to offer one chance, to Keaton Jennings at slip off Jack Morley when he’d made 60, but he took boundaries off both the new-ball bowlers and Balderson early in his innings and came into lunch unbeaten on 35 having played with the sort of care that threw the dismissals of his colleagues into shaming relief. Indeed, Gay had watched as Ricardo Vasconcelos and Justin Broad had both fallen to Balderson when they failed to execute well-chosen attacking strokes. Steven Croft at backward point and Morley at midwicket had gobbled up smart catches and Northamptonshire were 29 for 2. Ten overs later Sam Whiteman was stumped by Phil Salt off Morley when he came down the wicket to a ball that turned inside his drive. That left the visitors on 59 for 3 and we thought a familiar story was about to be told to travelling supporters tired of hearing the bloody tale.
Instead, though, Gay was joined by his skipper, Luke Procter, who once plied his trade in these parts and has often reminded his old muckers of a talent they probably underestimated.
True, Procter’s crouching stance at the wicket still recalls that of the ancient Private Godfrey in “The Test”, a cricket-themed episode of Dad’s Army, and of course, Northamptonshire’s 35-year-old captain is becoming something of a veteran himself. Yet when his moons align, he remains a mightily effective cricketer, coming down the wicket to the spinners and transforming himself from an arthritic pensioner into a model of orthodoxy
Perhaps more significantly here, however, he gave Gay precisely the sort of encouragement the 23-year-old needed as he progressed beyond fifty towards the century he would eventually dedicate to his recently deceased and much beloved Uncle Gladstone. The pair had put on 207 by the time Procter was pinned on the back foot for 75 by Will Williams, whose aggression and economy have been one of the features of a Lancashire season that has not been whelmed in triumph.
All the same, elements of Gay and Procter’s achievement are unlikely to have prompted street parties in Wellingborough or Brackley. For example, this was only Northamptonshire’s third century partnership of the season and the pair’s achievement in batting through from lunch till tea gave the county their first wicketless session since May 2022. Jennings’ bowlers, meanwhile, can reflect that they allowed Northamptonshire to collect only their second and third batting bonus points of their year. But at least one more venerable and certainly more respectable landmark was reached. Gay and Procter’s 207-run stand is their county’s highest for the fourth wicket against Lancashire, beating the unbroken 158 put on by Mushtaq Mohammed and Jim Watts at Liverpool in 1972.
But if this was an indifferent day for Lancashire’s cricketers, even less could be said for the county club or “Lancashire cricket” as some officials crassly like to compress it. All gates near the Metro station on Brian Statham Way were closed this morning, parking was limited and non-members were expected to sit square of the wicket, although this resulted in a group of splendidly stubborn souls invading A Stand and letting the devil take the consequences. Not for the first time, Lancashire’s arrangements for a first-class match at Emirates Old Trafford had been made with the Operations Team thinking what they could get away with rather than what supporters might reasonably require. An Ashes Test is a prized honour west of the Pennines but if the consequence of holding one is not giving a toss about the faithful folk who turn up through fat years and lean ones, loyal Lancastrians are entitled to be a tad thankful Australia will not play here again until 2031.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications