Old boy Ealham proves his value

Nottinghamshire 388 Lancashire 237-6

After limiting themselves to some discontented muttering on Tuesday over Ryan Sidebottom's participation here, Lancashire supporters had been clearing their throats for a proper whinge yesterday, clearly anticipating that the England pace bowler's frolicsome antics with the bat would be followed up with a hatful of wickets.

In the event, their fears were unfounded, although Lancashire struggled anyway. Sidebottom, whose pre-Ashes form is being assessed at first hand by national selector Geoff Miller, bowled 17 wicketless overs in four spells on a wilting day, but it was probably more important, from England's point of view, that he rediscovered the rhythm, after nine Twenty20 matches, of bowling more than two overs at a time.

Sidebottom, who missed the early-summer series against the West Indies after his winter injury problems, had not played a four-day match since the beginning of May. Lancashire's complaint is that the left-armer is the only contracted player in action in the current Championship round, while they have been denied the availability not only of Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson but also of Sajid Mahmood, called up for the Lions.

Miller said he could understand their grumble but asserted that England had little choice. "Ryan needed to bowl but there were other bowlers we wanted to look at [at Worcester and Edgbaston]," he said. "We try to be fair to all the counties but in this instance there wasn't really another option."

Nottinghamshire, of course, were happy, more so when he added 11 to his overnight 35 for his highest first-class score in 10 years. With Charlie Shreck chipping in an unbeaten 12 the Championship favourites reached 388.

When they bowled, it was not Sidebottom but Mark Ealham, who emerged as their principal weapon, the 39-year-old former England one-day specialist taking three wickets as Lancashire crawled along at less than three runs per over on a slow, dry pitch. After heavy defeats in their last two Championship matches, they will narrowly avoid the follow-on.

Ealham's ability to vary his pace disconcerted Lancashire, not least VVS Laxman, who was dropped at backward point on 25 but taken there on 30. The visitors had Mal Loye to thank for dragging them out of a deeper hole. Dropped in the slips on 74 he was sniffing a first century but was bowled on 84 giving the charge to Samit Patel's left-arm spin.

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