Surrey 374-6, Lancashire: Ramprakash's 180 is nightmare for Horton

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Every cricket match has pivotal episodes and when Lancashire's Paul Horton celebrates his 25th birthday today it will be hard for him to avoid the thought that this contest, perhaps even the County Championship title his employers so deeply crave, might have turned on his own moment of unwitting generosity here yesterday.

It came less than 20 minutes into the first session with Surrey, who had won the toss and chosen to bat, already a wicket down with only two runs scored and Mark Ramprakash not yet off the mark. Saj Mahmood, who had already claimed the wicket of Jon Batty via Stuart Law's catch at second slip, tested Ramprakash with a full length ball. The former England batsman did well to dig it out but as it squirted away in the offside he felt there was a run to be had. It was a misjudgment. Mahmood swooped to field, Ramprakash spun to retreat but was well out of his ground and Horton, who had been fielding at short leg, was standing over the stumps but failed to gather the ball. What happened next will have disturbed his sleep. Ramprakash crashed the next ball through mid-on for four and at close of play he was still there on 180.

He had another escape on eight, a low half-chance to third slip, but it was Horton who had missed the real opportunity and Lancashire know already that the victory that would guarantee them the title, outright, for the first time since 1934 is going to take some achieving.

Otherwise, it had not been a bad day for them. Early swing and seam movement helped Dominic Cork find the edge of Scott Newman's bat for 39 and Mahmood account for Mark Butcher at 21 when the captain miscued a pull. Then Gary Keedy, the left-arm spinner, tempted Stewart Walters, dropped on 11, and James Benning, who had raced to 51 from a mere 26 balls in typically no-nonsense style, into one swing of the bat too many.

Mahmood claimed Lancashire's second bonus point when Chris Jordan edged behind, but there was no shifting Ramprakash, who needs 120 more to reach 2,000 first-class runs for the second year running.