Lancashire push for victory at Southport
Lancashire are well placed to clinch a second Specsavers County Championship victory of the season and inflict the first defeat in 21 matches on Middlesex after a dominant display on an eventful third day at Southport & Birkdale Sports Club.
The defending Champions last four-day loss came in the final game of the 2015 season and they will do well to avoid defeat after closing on 156-6 in their second innings just 27 runs ahead of Lancashire going in to the final day.
Steven Croft’s side played well with both bat and ball today, establishing a significant first innings lead and then taking six Middlesex wickets before the visitors managed to bring the scores level.
“It was a very good day,” said Ryan McLaren whose 75 runs and partnerships with Jordan Clark and Tom Bailey helped Lancashire establish what looks to be a match-winning advantage.
“The original aim was to get close to their target,” he said. “Once we got there it was to try and get as many, and as big a lead, as possible.”
“To have a lead of 129 put us in a great position. I just never felt ‘in’ on that wicket. You really have to graft for your runs and accumulate as many as you can.
“So to get them six down at the close, we were very happy with that.”
Facing a first innings deficit of 129 runs midway through the day, Middlesex made the worst possible start losing Nick Gubbins after the opener edged a sharply rising delivery from Saqib Mahmood to wicketkeeper Alex Davies for 1.
Sam Robson and Steve Eskinazi rallied with 59 run partnership from 15 overs either side of tea before Stephen Parry turned the ball past Eskinazi’s attempted drive to hit off stump, the batsman having made 34 of the visitors’ 64-2.
Robson followed when he drove McLaren to Croft at backward point having scored 42.
Parry then claimed two wickets in one over to put Lancashire firmly in charge.
Paul Stirling had made 12 when Parry beat his forward defensive push to have his lbw appeal successfully upheld and three balls later John Simpson inside edged on to his pads with Dane Vilas snapping up the catch at short leg to leave Middlesex on 99-5.
Saqib Mahmood produced the perfect yorker to knock back James Franklin’s off stump before the visiting skipper had scored to add further damage to the Middlesex second innings on 110-6.
Dawid Malan finally brought the scores level when he pulled Mahmood for 4, and the left hander was the mainstay of the innings in making an unbeaten 45 by stumps with James Harris 15 not out.
“The wicket is still difficult to bat on,” added McLaren. “It’s not offering as much movement as it did in the first innings but there’s still enough there to keep any seamer in the game. It’s about being disciplined and accurate as Tim Murtagh showed.
“Pazza has bowled well too and that allows us to rotate the seamers.
“The first session tomorrow will be crucial.”
Middlesex enjoyed early success with the ball at the start of the day, Lancashire resuming on 123-4 but losing two early wickets to Murtagh. Shiv Chanderpaul edged the bowlers’ second delivery of the day to Robson at first slip without adding to his overnight 32, and Vilas did likewise to Franklin at first slip for 27 in Murtagh’s second over of the morning.
It was a big setback to Lancastrian ambitions of obtaining a first innings lead with the score on 136-6 but McLaren and Clark battled with great skill and determination in adding 62 for the seventh wicket in the face of some excellent, accurate bowling from the Middlesex seamers who found bounce and movement throughout.
In tough batting conditions McLaren and Clark initially defended, adding 22 runs in 12 overs to slowly chip away at the remaining deficit before starting to accelerate once they had settled in, reaching parity with Middlesex after a flurry of six boundaries in four overs brought the scores level in the 66th over .
Clark had struck 5 fours in making 38 but was trapped in front by Murtagh from a ball that appeared to keep a bit low, while Parry edged James Harris to Malan at second slip for 4 to leave the Red Rose side 217-8 at lunch.
The game swung firmly in Lancashire’s favour during the afternoon thanks largely to an attacking partnership of 87 from 20 overs between McLaren and Bailey.
The pair greeted the arrival of the new ball with a flurry of attractive shots, taking 25 from two overs from Murtagh and Toby Roland-Jones, and their 50 partnership arrived from just 11.3 overs to steer the Red Rose to a second batting point as the visitors’ largely three-man bowling attack showed signs of wilting.
“With the type of player Jordan is, he’s a natural striker of the ball,” was McLaren’s assessment. “You get the best of him in that situation by encouraging him to play his shots because he naturally puts bowling attacks under pressure.
“You want to take that responsibility of batting time and build a partnership, but at the same time having him as a partner speeds up the innings while I can try and absorb the pressure and bat time.”
McLaren reached his own half-century with his seventh four the ball after he was dropped at slip off Ravi Patel while Bailey drove with great conviction to take Lancashire in sight of another batting point.
Murtagh finally broke the stand when McLaren inside edged onto his stumps for 75 to give the bowler his sixth wicket of the innings with Lancashire on 291-9.
Last man Mahmood helped Bailey reach the 300 landmark before the innings ended in extraordinary fashion.
Bailey top-edged Harris for six over fine leg while in the process of ducking a bouncer to go to his second first-class half century and followed that by authentically pulling the next delivery for another six onto the adjacent railway lines to reach his career-best score of 58.
Harris was successful with the next ball when Bailey flicked him to Eskinazi at deep mid-wicket to bring the innings to a close on 309, while Murtagh finished with the fine figures of 6-63 from 28 overs.
“Bails played some serious cricket shots,” said McLaren. “It’s really promising having a guy coming in at number ten playing the strokes that he did.”
Photo: Simon Pendrigh