Lancashire challenge rekindled by Loye's dogged resistance

Lancashire 187 Worcestershire 77-4
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The Independent Online

Champions, as Arsenal will confirm, must be hard to beat. If Lancashire do win their first outright title since 1934 they may look back on this May first day as the narrow squeak. A lesser side could have been bowled out by lunch and if Warren Hegg had the chance to call again he would not bat.

Peter Marron's pitch looked good, the outfield had dried, the morning was cool and grey but under the surface lurked enough damp for the England off-spinner, Gareth Batty, to be bowling, to a close field, by mid-afternoon. Admittedly he was around the wicket to the left-handers but Ben Smith did have seamers fresh and rested.

Two overs after lunch Lancashire were 87 for 5 with Mal Loye thought unlikely to return having retired with a back spasm. In the treatment room he all but seized up and but for the prolonged application of painkillers and ice we might not have seen him again.

The morning victims all fell to catches at slip or gully with the exception of Iain Sutcliffe, surprised by a fizzer that flew off his defensive blade to cover. All four seamers made the ball swing and if Andy Bichel was the best, then the 21-year-old Nadeem Malik, late of Nottinghamshire, was the unluckiest.

Two of his deliveries were so good they beat everything, giving the wicketkeeper, Steve Rhodes, an uncomfortable morning. Had he been able to catch Loye, sharp and low to his right, off Bichel before he had scored, this would have been a very different story.

One of Lancashire's great strengths is the resource and resilience of their late middle order - Glen Chapple, Hegg and Dominic Cork - who used their vast experience to check and frustrate Worcestershire. Cork was at his dourest Staffordshire, taking 11 overs to reach 12 runs and it was after he had played on that the hero Loye returned, stiff and unbending, with a runner.

In the next 17 overs he contrived to add another 55 runs, mostly through boundaries, while Gary Keedy, who has developed the art of survival with a spider-like tenacity, hung on at the other end , the stand raising 60 before Keedy edged once too often.

By evening, in patchy sunshine and with less wind Lancashire could win less movement but James Anderson, a selection insisted upon by England, was both straighter and faster causing Stephen Moore to play on and then flattening Graeme Hick's off-stump as he tried to flick to leg. Keedy did not appear until there were only eight overs remaining and found turn and lift immediately, Smith falling at silly point, Stephen Peters caught behind.

* An impressive performance from James Averis restricted Northamptonshire to 218 on the first day at Bristol. The Gloucestershire fast bowler's 6 for 26, a personal best, overshadowed the debut of the Pakistan speedster Shabbir Ahmed, who struggled in the wet. Usman Afzaal anchored the visitors innings with a defiant 63. Gloucestershire were 93 without loss at the close with Craig Spearman on 53.