Lancashire’s hopes of avoiding relegation were left suspended in the balance at the end of an intriguing third day of their LV= County Cricket Championship Division One match against Middlesex at Emirates Old Trafford.
At close of play Glen Chapple’s side were 259 for six and they must score 41 runs in 14 overs on the third morning without losing three more wickets in order to gain the bonus points advantage they need before trying to win the game and condemning Middlesex to playing Second Division in 2015.
Players of a wonderfully complex day at Old Trafford were Steven Croft, whose 132-ball 60 helped Lancashire establish their first-innings lead, and Middlesex seamer Toby Roland-Jones, who took three for 46 from 20 well-directed overs.
Lancashire’s batsmen dominated the morning’s play, Luis Reece and Ashwell Prince adding 76 for the second wicket in relatively untroubled fashion. Both batsmen played and missed against the new ball but they guided their side to 88 for one at the interval.
The one batsman dismissed was Paul Horton, who was lbw to Tim Murtagh for seven in the seventh over of the session. However, Chris Rogers’ bowlers found the conditions on Wednesday rather less conducive to swing and seam and it was no surprise that spinner Ravi Patel bowled four overs.
However, Red Rose fortunes declined in an afternoon session in which they lost four wickets in adding 77 runs. Reece was the first to go for 45 when his drive off Roland-Jones only edged a sharp catch to Dawid Malan at second slip.
Four overs later Roland-Jones also bagged the key wicket of Prince when the South African seemed to stop a drive and only lofted a catch to Rogers at mid off where the Middlesex captain leapt up to take a good catch.
Karl Brown was bowled by James Harris for 13 when his expansive drive only inside-edged the ball onto his stumps but Lancastrian hopes were revived by a 42-run partnership for the sixth wicket between Steven Croft and Jos Buttler.
Slow left-armer Patel broke that stand when he had Buttler lbw for 23 and Lancashire went into tea on 165 for five with their First Division future hanging in the balance.
The evening session was dominated by Lancashire’s batsmen. Croft and Luke Procter extended their sixth-wicket stand to 61 before Croft was harshly adjudged caught by John Simpson off Roland-Jones when the ball had seemed to flick only the batsman’s body.
However, Chapple and Procter had added an unbroken 38 for the seventh wicket at stumps, by which time Procter was 37 not out off 107 balls and Chapple was unbeaten on 21.
“Our mood is good,” said Prince, “We are confident that we can bat well for the next 14 overs and build that lead. If we can get to 300 or beyond, it gives us a much better chance of winning the game. We don’t know what the weather is going to be for the rest of the game, so we can’t leave our declaration too long.”
“We tried to focus on the job in hand first and foremost,” said Toby Roland-Jones. “Steven Croft was providing a bit of resistance, so it was nice to get his wicket and we have to come back firing from ball one in the morning.”