Lancashire 498 for 7 (Bohannon 128, Wells 119, Salt 105, White 3-69) lead Northamptonshire 342 by 156 runs
If anything is to help this game reverse up Stalemate Close, it is probably the black saucers of earth that lie at each end of the pitch. Batters regard them with suspicion while spin bowlers, of which Lancashire have two specialists, view them with delight. If only our top order can build a lead, they thought this morning, we could frolic in the footmarks on Friday. So as expected, when play began at Emirates Old Trafford on this third day, three hours late and with 29 overs snipped from our ration, Lancashire put the hammer down on an attack lacking Ben Sanderson, Tom Taylor and Rob Keogh.
That said, Northamptonshire’s injured bowlers have taken 39 of their side’s 108 Championship wickets in 2023 and this day’s two sessions showed how sorely they are missed. To a degree, it also revived memories of the evening’s cricket at Blackpool just over a fortnight ago, when Lancashire’s attack was shredded by Dan Lawrence and Doug Bracewell. This time, however, it was Keaton Jennings’ batters who did the shredding, scoring 377 runs in 67 overs and ending the day with a lead of 156 runs and power to add on the morrow.
Even in the present era, such fast-forward cricket lent the evening unreality. The achievement of bonus points every 50 runs, significant partnerships and the batter’s individual landmarks blurred into each other and passed with notebook-defeating speed. Rounds of applause blended into each other, for there always seemed something for home supporters to clap. Wells reached his first century of the season off 171 balls, Bohannon his second off 143 balls and Salt also made his second three-figure score of the campaign, reaching that landmark off 74 balls with his third straight six to add to his 11 fours. So yes, there were plenty of big shots but what was most noticeable, particularly during Bohannon’s 126-run stand for the third wicket in 19 overs with Salt, was the whippet-speed of the running between the wickets as ones became twos if the fielder had to make any ground towards the ball.
And as so often on such occasions, catches went down, some more culpably than others. White had little choice but to throw his catch at deep square leg back inside the boundary as he toppled over the rope, thus giving Wells a life on 78, but shortly afterwards Lewis McManus had no such excuse when he spilled a very straightforward chance off Dominic Leech. McManus was standing back, Leech was standing aghast and Wells was still standing on 85 not out.
The one Northamptonshire fielder to emerge from the massacre with any credit was Ricardo Vasconcelos, who took an unremarkable catch to dismiss Wells off White for 119 and then a very remarkable, one-handed, diving effort off the same bowler to remove Bohannon for 128. But the loss of those wickets was acceptable collateral damage for Lancashire, although the same could hardly be said when Croft received a box-splintering blow in the knackers from White and fell to earth like a lightweight on the end of a haymaker.
Salt’s dismissal, caught at deep square leg off White for a 77-ball 105 brought the curtain down on chaos. Nine overs from the close, Bell was caught on the deep square leg boundary by Vasconcelos for 15 and Croft and Tom Bailey later fell to Luke Procter, who, along with White, was the only Northamptonshire bowler who will wish to consult his bowling figures this evening. But those late successes seemed taken from another game, one far detached from the mayhem of a post-tea session in which 222 runs were scored in 35 overs, and one even further removed from the sight of Salt hitting fours and sixes that astounded even his batting partner.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications