Cricket: Lancashire are left becalmed

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Northamptonshire 281-4 v Lancashire

A potentially rewarding opening to Lancashire's County Championship season is offering thinner pickings by the day.

A fixture list bringing them into contact with the only three teams to finish below them in last year's Championship table held out the illusory promise of a flying start.

Rained off against Durham, soundly beaten by Nottinghamshire and now becalmed against Northamptonshire, Lancashire still cannot get airborne.

It could be argued that there were extenuating circumstances at Old Trafford yesterday. England's cause deprived them of Michael Atherton, John Crawley and Graham Lloyd, while Wasim Akram and their captain, Mike Watkinson, were both injured.

The line-up had a threadbare look to it even before Warren Hegg joined the list of absentees, going off for treatment to a back spasm that had worried him all day and leaving the stand-in captain, Neil Fairbrother, to also deputise behind the stumps.

It was not a day's cricket from which many people would have regretted departing early. Against the depleted Lancashire attack, Northamptonshire ground their way steadily towards a big total, only lifting their run- rate when Kevin Curran was at the wicket.

More typical of their ponderous progress was Richard Montgomerie, who stuck around for almost three and a half hours for his 49 before becoming the second of two victims for Gary Keedy during Lancashire's only hopeful period of a wearing day.

Keedy had not appeared in the first team in any competition this season until yesterday, but he made up for his delayed reappearance from the shadows in terms of quantity, if not always of quality.

He had a long bowl and sometimes turned the ball sharply on a wicket that looked sufficiently encouraging for both sides to include two spinners, but also produced from his mixed bag too many short-pitched deliveries which even a side in as little apparent hurry as Northamptonshire had to dispatch.

Between his capture of Rob Bailey, caught at short mid-off, and the fall of Montgomerie at slip, Curran announced his arrival by smiting Keedy for six.

Although often deprived of the strike by his partner, Tony Penberthy, Curran managed to keep the scoreboard moving at a more respectable pace, including hitting one mighty six straight back past Peter Martin.

Steve Titchard's occasional medium pace saw off Penberthy with one that came through even more gently than usual, but Curran, who had survived a sharp caught and bowled chance to Martin on 21, remained undefeated on 91 when bad light ended a drab day. Lancashire are still wondering when the fun is due to start.