cricket: Lancashire gain the upper hand

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The Independent Online
reports from Lytham St Annes

Lancashire 355 Sussex 16-1

For a few uneasy moments, Lancashire must have thought they were having another one of those weeks yesterday. Out of the NatWest Trophy and needing to make up ground in the County Championship, their early batting faltered against Ian Salisbury's wrist spin, and they looked in some danger of squandering the considerable advantage of the toss.

On a pitch which resembled the baked, rolled mud surfaces sometimes found in the more remote areas of Pakistan - and one which, unsurprisingly, took spin from an early hour - this would have been a criminal offence.

Happily for them - and partly because Sussex currently do not have another experienced slow bowler - Jason Gallian, Steve Titchard, Mike Watkinson and Wasim Akram were all able to make half centuries of varying degrees of studiousness and violence, which left Lancashire with enough runs in the bank to give their own spinners the chance to win the match.

That, anyway, will be their game plan. After only five overs, Watkinson and Gary Keedy were operating in harness, and just as Sussex looked like ending a testing day unscathed, Keedy turned one to bowl the left-handed Toby Peirce on his debut.

A long hard struggle awaits Sussex today. Occupation of the crease (or what is left of it) will be their prime concern, and as Salisbury toiled long and hard for his six wickets, they must have wished that one E Hemmings had postponed his retirement for just a little longer.

Nick Phillips and Peirce lacked the know-how to exploit the conditions and Alan Wells, handling his bowling resources carefully and thoughtfully in the stamina-sapping heat, had to use Paul Jarvis and Ed Giddins at times when he would have preferred spin.

Both stuck to it well, and there was more than a little irony in Jarvis's dismissal of Mike Atherton. In a season when Atherton is probably ducking and weaving out of the way of bouncers in his sleep, he fended off a short one from Jarvis and saw it trickle on to his stumps.

Salisbury then got to work, inducing indeterminate strokes from Gallian and John Crawley when they were starting to look as established as anyone could hope to be on this pitch. He bothered most batsmen - even Watkinson, as he bludgeoned Phillips out of the attack. It seems a shame that he cannot eliminate that one costly bad ball an over.