As eyes and lenses fixed inevitably on Andrew Flintoff and the evolution of his latest comeback, another England all-rounder somewhat stole the show here as Lancashire were left needing to make a collective comeback in this match.
Before a blustery and cold evening saw him begin to look encouragingly comfortable as he began his fourth attempt to regain his form with the bat, Flintoff had raised a flurry of excitement by taking both of his wickets from consecutive balls.
The dismissals of Dominic Cork, who edged tamely to slip, and Chris Tremlett, fending to short leg, were merely a blip for Hampshire. Flintoff had looked sharp at times but ultimately took a share of the punishment as Dmitri Mascarenhas powered Hampshire to a first-innings lead of 137.
The Hampshire captain is largely recognised as a one-day specialist, yet curiously he has yet to make a century outside the longer game. Yesterday's 108 was his first three-figure score since August 2006 but his eighth overall in first-class matches.
Not that it was a classical essay. Mascarenhas thrives on anything short and wide, and Lancashire simply bowled to his strengths, often temptingly on the leg side. Flintoff was as guilty as anyone. Sajid Mahmood also struggled to find the right length as Mascarenhas plundered 14 fours in his 129-ball innings. He went after Glen Chapple and Gary Keedy too, hitting sixes off both.
Lancashire's bowling after lunch was particularly ordinary. As Hampshire built on the 86-run partnership between Nic Pothas and 18-year-old James Vince, Mascarenhas and James Tomlinson added 78 for the ninth wicket, to which the latter contributed six. Then Imran Tahir, the leg spinner, hit Chapple for consecutive leg-side sixes. One cannot imagine that an Old Trafford crowd would have let them off lightly.
Yet the day ended with eyes again on Flintoff. Sent in at three for the second time in the match – he had made 12 batting first-wicket down on Thursday – Flintoff had an immediate let-off, having scored only a single, when he was dropped by Tahir off his own bowling. But thereafter, once his nerves settled, he seemed to enjoy himself. By the close he was unbeaten on 36, having succeeded with some satisfyingly authentic strokes among his seven boundaries, and Lancashire were two down but back in front.