Title-holders Lancashire are in danger of being dragged into a relegation battle after they were bowled out for their lowest Championship total on their home ground for 49 years by struggling Worcestershire at Old Trafford yesterday.
On a pitch offering generous help to spin bowlers, they were dismissed for just 63 in 31.1 overs as Worcestershire off-spinner Moeen Ali claimed a career-best figures for the second time in 24 hours.
Lancashire, beaten by 205 runs, have won only one First Division match this season and have suffered four defeats, leaving them only nine points clear of the relegation places having played two matches more than all three teams behind them.
Their woes might have been deepened, too, when the ECB convened a pitch panel following the heavy influence of spin on the outcome – 34 of the 40 wickets fell to slow bowlers – but the panel – headed by ECB pitches consultant Chris Wood – decided the Old Trafford surface did not merit a points deduction, rating it 'poor' but ruling that there were extenuating circumstances.The Lancashire total was their lowest at Old Trafford since being dismissed for 62 by Somerset in 1963 and their lowest anywhere since being bowled out by Glamorgan for 51 at Liverpool in 1997.
For Worcestershire it was a first four-day win in 11 matches since they beat Lancashire at New Road last season and they are now only five points behind Lancashire.
Lancashire, who were heavily beaten by Nottinghamshire in their only other match at Old Trafford this season, may rue going into the match with only one specialist spinner in Simon Kerrigan, regardless of the adaptable Steven Croft's performance.
Kerrigan admitted his side had not known what to expect from a pitch being used for the first time since the square was turned at the end of the 2010 season. "We haven't played too much Championship cricket at Old Trafford in the last two years so we didn't know what it was going to do," he said. "It was damp on the first morning and we thought that when it dried out it would flatten out for a couple of days and then turn on the last day."
In the event, it was over well before the end of the third day, Ali finishing with 6 for 29 bowling from the pavilion end to go with his first-innings six for 67 to claim 10 wickets in a match for the first time in his career. Before this match, the 25-year-old had claimed five wickets for 260 in eight championship games this season.
Earlier in the day, Lancashire's Croft, normally a seamer, also set a career-best, finishing with six for 41 bowling off-breaks as Worcestershire were bowled out for 139, to which veteran Vikram Solanki contributed 50 on the day it was announced he would be leaving New Road to join Surrey.
Croft, in England's provisional squad for the World Twenty20, took 3 for 64 in the first innings, in which a century from wicketkeeper Ben Scott became the match-winning innings.
Scott was also the key to Lancashire's demise as they chased an unlikely target of 269 runs to win, holding three catches and executing two stumpings to finish with seven dismissals.
While title rivals Nottinghamshire were frustrated by another wash-out at Trent Bridge, leaders Warwickshire are strongly placed at Taunton, where another off-spinner, New Zealand's Jeetan Patel, ended on a hat-trick as he took a career-best 7 for 75 to dismiss Somerset for 254 despite an unbeaten 73 from Nick Compton.
Warwickshire had been all out for 400 with Alfonso Thomas ending on a hat-trick and take a lead of 212 into the final day, with seven wickets in hand. Durham's poor season continued at Arundel, where they closed on 80 for seven after finishing all square against Sussex after the first innings.