If the victory Lancashire need here looked difficult to attain at Wednesday's close, it looked as good as impossible last night, when none of their key batsmen could produce the substantial innings necessary to counter the brilliance of Mark Ramprakash. Surrey chose not to enforce the follow-on but with a first-innings lead of 193, extended to 214, have challenged Lancashire's bowlers to keep their side in the hunt for the title.
Replying to Surrey's 427 for 9 declared, Lancashire needed the foundation of a steady start from their captain, Mark Chilton, but after despatching his first ball for four he thrust his front pad at the second only to be hit on the toe, with the umpire Neil Mallender judging him to be leg before, awarding a wicket to Matt Nicholson that he followed up in his next over when Steven Croft, trying to defend against a lifting delivery, was caught behind.
Two down for eight was hardly what Lancashire had in mind, although not necessarily a disaster if someone, maybe a couple of batsmen, could impose themselves. The absence of Mal Loye, injured, and Brad Hodge, seconded to Twenty20 duty, left them weaker than they might have been but still, in theory, strong enough.
Unfortunately for them, though Paul Horton, Stuart Law and VVS Laxman all made promising starts, none could build on them. Law and Horton guided them to 45 for 2 at lunch and on to 84 for 2 but the return of Nicholson saw the former bowled off an inside edge, after which Horton was caught behind down the legside, both men falling short of the half-century. Laxman at least passed that milestone, but once he had been caught on the hook, Lancashire's chance of getting close to Surrey's score had gone.
In the end, Ramprakash, by extending his masterclass beyond six and a half hours, helped put Lancashire in a position from which they are realistically third favourites for the title behind Sussex and Durham.