Lloyd and Hegg maintain the chase

Before play began yesterday morning the pitch at Old Trafford was picked and pored over by a three-man team of pitch inspectors from the England and Wales Cricket Board. Two hours after play began Graham Lloyd clocked up his 100th run of the morning. If there was anything wrong with the pitch no one had told Lloyd, or Warren Hegg, or Glen Chapple, who jet-propelled Lancashire's score towards 400 - a target they reached at 3.10pm, with eight wickets down.

Before play began yesterday morning the pitch at Old Trafford was picked and pored over by a three-man team of pitch inspectors from the England and Wales Cricket Board. Two hours after play began Graham Lloyd clocked up his 100th run of the morning. If there was anything wrong with the pitch no one had told Lloyd, or Warren Hegg, or Glen Chapple, who jet-propelled Lancashire's score towards 400 - a target they reached at 3.10pm, with eight wickets down.

That was significant. Lancashire's acquisition of five batting points meant there is still a distant statistical possibility that Surrey can be overhauled at the top of the Championship table when the two teams meet this week. It is all pure speculation, of course. Lancashire must win this game against Somerset to take 20 points, and then overwhelm Surrey at Old Trafford, taking all 20 points to Surrey's none. A likely tale.

But these calculations assume that the three pitch inspectors - Mike Denness, A C Smith, and the former Durham groundsman Tommy Flintoff - do not hand Surrey the Championship by deducting eight points, having found the pitch "poor" when Somerset batted on Friday morning.

If the pitch inspectors listen to the Somerset players, no penalty will be levied. Somerset's chairman of cricket, Vic Marks, reports that the team did not like batting on a pitch on which the ball swung, but that they did not regard it as a punishable offence.

But no one is quite sure whom pitch inspectors listen to. While hardly anyone questions the need for better pitches, the inspection system has proved arbitrary, and is the source of much cynicism on the county circuit. On two of the three occasions on which points have been deducted (at Derby and Scarborough) Surrey were the opponents, and yet The Oval has not been subject to an inspection, despite the sideways movement of the spun ball from lunch on the first day.

Poor pitches at Basingstoke, Tunbridge Wells and Headingley all passed muster, and here was a pitch at Old Trafford being scrutinised even though only 13 wickets actually fell on the first day.

The pity of it was that the presence of the ECB team tended to distract attention from the quality of Lancashire's batting, which was not always elegant, but proved extremely effective as Lloyd and Hegg carved, cut, hoiked and bludgeoned their way to hundreds. Lloyd's century took 132 balls and contained 82 runs in boundaries (one six and 19 fours). After the early dismissal of Mike Atherton and Chris Schofield, Lloyd and Hegg put on 150 in 30 overs before lunch. It was like one imagines old times to have been.

When Lloyd was out lbw - and dubiously - in the first over after lunch, acting captain Hegg took over where he left off. Hegg did not score as fast (his 100 came off 171 balls and contained 13 fours), but his play was full of improvisation.

Hegg and Glen Chapple put on 67, and by the time Lancashire went past 400, Hegg seemed invincible. No one is, and when he was out for 128, Lancashire declared, 331 ahead of Somerset. Although, for their chairman of cricket, there was some compensation. The fall of the sixth wicket gave Somerset a third batting point and a guaranteed place in the First Division nextseason.

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