Durham 255-4 v Lancashire: Lancashire stumble after day to forget

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The Independent Online

This was not the opening day Lancashire had hoped for in their pursuit of the County Championship title (which, should you need to be reminded, as Lancastrians are daily at this time of year, they have not won in their own right since 1934, not counting 1950 when it was shared with Surrey).

This time there was no blaming the weather, which washed away their chance to beat Warwickshire in their last match. Rain is Lancashire's other perennial autumn complaint. Yet Old Trafford yesterday remained dry, the worn wicket ends positively shimmering in the sunshine.

The problem instead was the opposition. Third from bottom, beaten more times than anyone else, Durham would probably have been Lancashire's opponent of choice for their game in hand of the leaders, Sussex. Already, however, their hopes of overhauling a 19-point deficit ahead of next week's final round are reduced. By the close, they had managed a solitary point and will need to take five wickets in 21 overs this morning to remain on course for a maximum.

A game plan that would not have involved batting last - the grassless wicket ends include those on the strip prepared for this match - backfired at the outset when Mark Chilton lost the toss. Naturally, Durham chose to bat first, a strategy which so far is working well.

What was all the more frustrating for Lancashire is that Durham are hardly known for obduracy when it comes to building scores yet here their batsmen have been a model of application, none more so than Jimmy Maher, who treated the new ball with such respect it took him 50 minutes and 39 deliveries to get off the mark. Maher hung around ultimately for five hours and 40 minutes. After such dogged resistance it was a shame he failed on 95, undone by a fine piece of bowling by Glen Chapple, who rapped him on the pads with an inswinger and curved the next ball away, luring Maher fatally to follow it.

Collectively, Durham rarely lifted their scoring rate substantially above two per over. They have every reason to be guarded, however, with the prospect of their last fixture, against Yorkshire, turning into a relegation decider.

Gary Scott escaped a couple of half-chances but gave productive support to Maher before being leg before to a Gary Keedy full toss. The reserve wicketkeeper Garry Park, making his Championship debut as a batsman, justified his place with a bright 45 before chipping to midwicket and there was a belated success for Murali Kartik, the second of Lancashire's left-arm spinners, when Dale Benkenstein sliced to backward point.