Evenly poised game heads for thrilling finale
Lancashire and Hampshire fought a tough, tense battle on a second day of fluctuating fortunes in this LV= Insurance County Championship encounter at Aigburth that may still settle the destination of the title.
After Lancashire made 141, Hampshire replied with 158-7 in their second innings to lead by 160 runs but with the Warwickshire v Somerset match appearing to be some way from being decided, the winners of this match may have to wait to find out whether victory has clinched a title success.
Who the victors in this match will be is still far from decided going into the third day. Both days have followed similar patterns with the new ball causing batsmen on both sides the most trouble before the shine goes from the ball and the pitch eased in the afternoon sunshine.
“It’s been a nice wicket to bowl on,” said Tom Bailey who took a superb 5-19 this afternoon.
“But it feels like it is flattening out which is good for us so long as we can get those three wickets early tomorrow.
“This wicket is tailor-made for us,” he explained.
“It felt like the quicker you bowl the easier it is to bat on. Guys like Jack (Blatherwick) and Woody who are normally key guys at Old Trafford where you need that pace there wasn’t so much (in it) here.
“But I thought everyone bowled well.”
Resuming day two on 25-3, Lancashire slumped to 47-7 before two excellent partnerships involving Steven Croft, Luke Wood and Bailey steered the Red Rose to within two runs of Hampshire’s first innings 143.
Bailey then starred with the ball taking three early wickets when Hampshire batted again to have the visitors in difficulties on 24-4 before being rescued by a fine 67-ball half century from captain James Vince, although he had a close call after nearly giving a caught and bowled chance to Matt Parkinson when on 18.
Vince found great support from Liam Dawson in a battling 80-run partnership that put the visitors in the ascendency during the final session.
But both batsmen departed just before the close as this sometimes frantic game took another twist.
Matt Parkinson removed Vince, lbw for 69, and Bailey then bowled Dawson for 41 to end the day with his first five-for this season-with power to add to it tomorrow morning.
Bailey admitted to some relief when the those two late wickets fell.
“Hampshire were getting a good partnership going so to get those last two wickets was crucial for us,” he said. “They are two important players for Hampshire so to see them walk off was good.
“It means we can come back (tomorrow) with just three poles away.”
Bailey smiled when asked what it was like to play in such a topsy-turvy game.
“Great, to be honest and very entertaining,” he replied.
“You can’t switch off for one second.”
In fact Bailey was so switched on to the unfolding events, he missed his own landmark achievement!
“I’ve not had a five-for in two years,” he said. “And I didn’t even realise it when I got that fifth today. One of lads told me.”
Bailey is sanguine about that particular stat.
“When you are playing in a good side you don’t get chances to take five,” he said.
“I’m not bothered. I just want to win games for Lancs.”
Hampshire picked three spinners for this match but they were left redundant as Mohammad Abbas with 5-48 and Keith Barker (4-51) did the damage when play resumed in the morning.
Both found bounce and movement to claim early successes that threatened to sink the Lancashire reply.
But two determined, counter-attacking partnerships of 46 between Croft and Wood and 38 by Croft and Bailey turned the day around for Lancashire.
It was Wood who initiated the counterattack with some positive shots hitting 5 fours and a six in his 37 from just 41 balls. Croft added a vital 40 runs, the top score of the innings, also with 5 fours and a six and found good support from Bailey who contributed 23 with Lancashire 141 all out and just two runs behind by early afternoon.
Their efforts effectively turned this compelling game into a one-innings shootout with the Championship title the potential prize. Who wins at Aigburth looks like being resolved tomorrow, but the destination of the title may take a bit longer.
“We know it’s not going to be easy,” said Bailey.
“But that partnership (of Hampshire’s) showed that if you dig in, it does become a lot easier.
“If we can take these three wickets early, and have a chase of around 180 to win the Championship we’re going to do it.”
Bailey wasn’t forgetting that events at Edgbaston may yet intervene on that particular ambition but added: “All we can do is concentrate on here and win this game and that’s it.”
Photos: Barry Mitchell & Luke Adams