Sutton defies doubters to keep Lancashire upright

Lancashire 292 Somerset 14-1
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The Independent Online

Lancashire members are not renowned for keeping their thoughts to themselves and the reaction to Luke Sutton's elevation to opening bat as the players emerged for the opening session here hardly exuded confidence.

Wicketkeepers do not tend to be granted many indulgences these days unless they can back up their glovework with useful runs and Sutton's last two seasons have been a struggle.

He had not registered a first-class century since August 2007 and since then had managed a half-century against county opposition only once. With the bright and able Gareth Cross, Lancashire's one-day wicketkeeper, eager for a run in the longer format, Sutton has come under increasing pressure to justify his place.

Yet those of little faith had to swallow their misgivings here yesterday after the Somerset-born player frustrated his former county with a timely return to form, holding an otherwise fragile Lancashire innings together with a splendid 118 spanning more than five hours.

Particularly strong through the off side, where he launched many a handsome drive among his 18 boundaries, Sutton had one escape when he was on 85, dropped at second slip off the dangerous Alfonso Thomas, but was otherwise in complete control until he tried to flick Zander de Bruyn off his hips and was well caught down the leg side by the Somerset keeper, Jos Buttler.

Saj Mahmood, who made 52 against Warwickshire a couple of weeks ago, demonstrated again that his capabilities are not limited to fast bowling by hitting nine fours and a straight-driven six, off leg-spinner Michael Munday, in a 76-ball 64, and it was his part in an eighth-wicket partnership worth 108 that added innings-saving value to Sutton's efforts.

Earlier, the day had twice threatened to swing heavily in Somerset's favour after Glen Chapple had won the toss and chosen to bat first on what had the appearance of a good batting surface.

The first dozen overs suggested otherwise as Australian all-rounder Damien Wright began with a fine new-ball spell that yielded 3-20 from nine overs and had Lancashire in trouble at 27 for 3. He dismissed Stephen Moore and Paul Horton with balls that found the edge before Ashwell Prince was trapped in front by a fuller, straighter delivery.

Sutton and Mark Chilton, solidly diligent as his partner reached 50 for the first time since July 2008, added 104 in 38 overs but Chilton's dismissal leg before to Thomas sparked a mid-innings collapse from 131-3 to 175-7.

Now it was Thomas inflicting the damage. Steven Croft, who hooked his first ball against the bowler for six, fell to an identical shot before Kyle Hogg flashed at a ball angled across him to be caught behind. Then Chapple was run out attempting a hopeless single to mid-on.

Yet Sutton stood firm and with Mahmood's confidently lusty assistance restored respectability to the scorecard. Wright, who finished with 5-41, returned to bowl Mahmood and have Daren Powell caught on the square-leg boundary but by then Lancashire's bowlers had something to defend, although the failure to gain a third batting point will irk captain Chapple.

Mahmood left the field after one over of Somerset's reply, after feeling some pain in his side while batting, but the day ended well for his team when opener Arul Suppiah was bowled by Kyle Hogg, deflecting the ball on to his stumps as he tried to leave it.