Croft century sets up victory bid
Steven Croft made the 14th first-class century of his career before the Red Rose bowlers struck with early wickets to put Lancashire firmly in charge of this LV= County Championship encounter at a sunny Emirates Old Trafford.
Croft anchored the Lancashire second innings superbly with an unbeaten 103, his first Championship ton since 2017, to help set Northamptonshire an imposing victory target of 425.
Only one team has ever successfully chased more than 400 to win against Lancashire and the visitors’ prospects received some early setbacks.
Saqib Mahmood struck with two wickets in the fourth over during a really quick five-over spell from the James Anderson end.
Ben Curran was the first after he popped up a catch to Rob Jones at cover from a leading edge and four balls later Emilio Gay fenced defensively at a short ball that ballooned gently to Croft at slip.
Tom Bailey claimed the third to put Lancashire well on top when Rob Keogh edged to Croft at second slip as the visitors slid to 26-3.
Ricardo Vasconcelos and Luke Procter defended resolutely to reach the close shortly before 7.20pm on 20 and 15 respectively, with Northants 57-3, still needing a further 368 runs and Lancashire seven wickets away from a first victory of the season.
Resuming with a 188-run lead, Lancashire lost both openers in the first two overs of the day; Keaton Jennings lbw to Ben Sanderson for 27 followed by Alex Davies, pushing forward but edging a Tom Taylor delivery to Vasconcelos at first slip for 36.
Josh Bohannon and Croft fought back with watchful a partnership of 59 across 15 overs although they had to see off lively, searching spells from Sanderson and Taylor as the visitors attack bowled a disciplined line and length to restrict scoring opportunities.
The introduction of spin brought Northants further, immediate, success, with Keogh turning one that beat Bohannon’s drive and clattered into the stumps after the Boltonian had made 22, although the visitors were also hampered by the loss of Simon Kerrigan due to a side strain picked up while batting yesterday.
Lunch arrived with Lancashire 290 ahead, but their attempt to push on after the restart were setback by two run outs; Dane Vilas for 24 to the third ball of the afternoon and Jones for 8 in the following over, both unable to recover their ground attempting sharp singles but being sent back.
Luke Wood pulled Nathan Buck to sub fielder Gareth Berg at square leg for 14 but Croft continued to accumulate steadily, well supported by Bailey who upped the tempo with 34 off 50 balls including one straight six off Keogh in a 62-run partnership for the 7th wicket that extended the lead towards 400.
Having batted in fairly measured fashion thus far Croft went to his century in fine style, pulling Buck high over midwicket for six before raising his alarms aloft in celebration almost before the ball sailed over the boundary.
The declaration came immediately and the Red Rose attack then took over.
“It’s been a very good day on both a personable note and for the team,” said Steven Croft.
“To finish up with those three wickets was important.”
And Croft revealed he was under a bit of pressure as he approached three figures.
“We were supposed to be coming off after that ball,” he revealed. “Although I think Dane might have given me another over!”
“But it was very satisfying (to go to a hundred). I was waiting for that sort of ball (to hit).
“We had a target of how much we wanted to bowl at them tonight, so it was nice not to drag it out too long.
“The support from Bails and Tom (Hartley) put up some good resistance and they scored some vital runs as well.”
Croft was both pleased and relived to chalk up a century today.
“It’s my first one for a few years,” he reflected. “I’ve been down the order a bit, so it was nice to get an opportunity at the top and get some runs to go with it.
“It’s been a long winter and a few years coming, so it was very satisfying.”
Going into the final day of this game Croft added: “We’ve got the runs on the board and earned the right to have attacking fields for most of the day.
“They’ve got some good players in their line up, so although we’re confident we know it won’t be easy.
“There’s some rough for our spinners, and our pace bowlers have been right on it.
“But we can’t turn up thinking it’s just going to happen. We’ve got to put in one more day of hard graft and hopefully force that victory.”