Game in the balance ahead of the final day against Middlesex
Lancashire and Middlesex go into the final home day of the season at Emirates Old Trafford with the game evenly poised with the Red Rose enjoying a lead of 211 runs following half centuries by Keaton Jennings and Liam Livingstone.
Middlesex fought back well with the second new ball during the evening session to leave the outcome of this Specsavers County Championship in the balance with the prospect of an exciting final day’s play bringing the curtain down on the home match season.
Champions Lancashire will be presented with the Division Two trophy at the close of play tomorrow.
The story of the morning session revolved around the determined batting of Jennings and Saqib Mahmood as the pair slowly ate into the overnight Middlesex lead of 64 runs.
The visitor’s bowlers soon discovered that it was just as difficult to dislodge the opposition batsmen on this placid pitch as their Red Rose counterparts had found the previous day.
Mahmood showed great resilience in making a career-best 34 and helping Jennings see off the Middlesex new ball attack in a partnership of 76 runs that had spanned nearly 30 overs by the time the nightwatchman edged behind playing forward to Miguel Cummins twenty minutes before lunch.
But it was job done as far as Mahmood was concerned with Lancashire just three runs behind, and that was the only wicket to fall during the morning.
Josh Bohannon helped Jennings add 51 in 15 overs either side of the break before falling lbw to Toby Roland-Jones for 28 but wickets proved to be something of a rarity in the first two sessions.
Jennings batted with great patience throughout, reaching his sixth half-century of the season from 130 balls with a lovely square cut for four off Ethan Bamber.
And the afternoon session was a replica of the morning as the bowlers toiled while the batsmen prospered.
Livingstone joined forces with Jennings to double the Red Rose total in a 127-run partnership across 32 overs, going past fifty for the second time in the match.
It was tough going as the Middlesex attack stuck to bowling straight and making scoring difficult.
The pair reached tea with Lancashire on 235-3 and ahead by 157 runs but both departed in the final session as Middlesex were finally rewarded for making good use of the second new ball after getting the wicket of Jennings, with five wickets falling for 29 runs in 13.4 overs.
Heartbreakingly for Jennings, his dismissal was self-inflicted just three runs short of what would have been a well-deserved century when he played back to Nathan Sowter but chopped on for his second 97 of the season. Having batted for five hours and 21 minutes and having played so steadily in facing 214 balls it was a tough way to go.
Livingstone had put away a brace of sixes in what otherwise was a watchful innings of 68 from 116 balls, his second half-century of the match, before nicking Bamber to wicketkeeper Simpson five overs later.
Three further wickets followed quickly; Roland-Jones trapped Dane Vilas lbw for 2, Rob Jones cut Cummins to Sowter at gully for 16 and Tom Bailey perished to Malan at second slip for 4 to give Cummins a fourth wicket, and the visitors sensed a reward for their unstinting efforts with Lancashire on 282-8, just over two hundred runs in front.
Bad light then curtailed the day 11 overs early with Lancashire on 289-8, leading by 211, with Steven Croft (7 not out) and Matt Parkinson (1 not out) at the crease.
A “disappointed” Keaton Jennings was upbeat about Lancashire’s chances going into tomorrow’s final day against Middlesex.
Despite failing to reach his century today Jennings said: “Regardless of your own performance it’s about putting the team in a position where we can win the game.
“I was disappointed to get out when I did just before the new ball was due, but we are 211 ahead and although we’d like a few more, on that surface two hundred can feel like a massive score on a wearing surface.
“I think the wicket has led to a really good game,” he added. “Day one was hard work, day two was a belting batting surface and it has got tougher to bat on now as you would want from a four day surface.
“So it’s set up to be a really good game tomorrow.
“If we can come out and eke out a few more runs and then bowl really well, we can put them under huge pressure.”
And Jennings says going for the win tomorrow is uppermost in the players’ thoughts as opposed to defending Lancashire’s unbeaten record.
“It’s not about going unbeaten,” he said “You want to dominate every team you play against. We are in a position now where the game could go either way.
“You want to be tough to beat, and you want to go and beat the other teams.
“Because we’ve done so well in the Championship over the six months, you don’t want to go into the last couple of weeks and let yourself down.
“Maybe we’ve had one bad session or one bad day (in this match) but we’ve got tomorrow to make up for it.
“We’ve played some really good cricket and so have Middlesex. They’ve put us under pressure, and we’ve done the same. The game has ebbed and flowed.
“It’s been a fantastic four day game and it could build up to a really good finish.
“And to end the season having done well leaves you with a really good feeling going into next year.”
Photo: Barry Mitchell
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