Alleyne and Russell grind their way to respectability

MIKE CAREY reports from Old Trafford
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Four-day cricket was meant to produce gritty, no-quarter-asked-or-given contests, so no one can complain about what has been delivered here on a pitch becoming slower and lower and showing occasional signs of wear and tear.

Thanks to Mark Alleyne and Jack Russell, who ground out 138 in 71 overs, Gloucestershire had something to bowl at yesterday after being reduced to 35 for 4. But Lancashire, with Mike Atherton locating the middle of the bat again after a lean start to the season, have wickets and therefore options available for today.

Not many purists would opt to watch Alleyne kicking the spinners away at one end and Russell producing his exaggerated leave-alone stroke at the other, but this pair were not in business for style, only effectiveness, as they doggedly chipped and nudged their side to respectability.

Alleyne had, in any case, entered the match with no recent form to bolster him. At 83 he again needed some luck when he was dropped at slip off Gary Keedy, though this was from a back-foot force and not the more traditional chance from a batsman lured forward by a left arm spinner's flight and guile.

This was because Keedy, possibly under orders, was operating over the wicket into the rough, a tactic hardly designed to induce error or terror for batsmen biding their time and not willing - indeed not needing - to take the slightest risk.

Thus Alleyne was able to pad away the high percentage of deliveries pitched outside leg stump and not demanding a stroke and, with Russell patiently picking off errors of length and line, nothing much happened to suggest Lancashire knew where their first wicket of the day was coming from.

Not until the second new ball was near did Mike Watkinson use himself in tandem with Keedy to quicken the over rate. Nor was the said new ball used with much distinction until Steve Elworthy persuaded Alleyne into a rare error around off stump, giving Warren Hegg a diving catch.

After some five and a half hours Alleyne was four short of a worthy 100. Ironically Russell then fell to one that he could have left alone. Gloucestershire then batted as though they would rather be bowling, but the new ball probably did less than they expected and their first success came when Nick Speak padded up to Alleyne's inswinger and had to be sent on his way.