With an attack spearheaded by Wasim Akram, but with their spin bowlers continuing to play an increasingly important role, Lancashire yesterday gave the pretenders to the Championship, Northamptonshire, a sharp reminder that life at the top can indeed be a tough business.
It certainly did not come much tougher than when Wasim, armed with the new ball, gave their opening pair, Alan Fordham and Richard Montgomerie, the kind of going over that might well have kept them awake last night.
Wasim's extra pace was always going to be a decisive factor on such a rock-hard pitch. In mixing bouncers with swinging yorkers, but offering very little that could be played in comfort off the front foot, he took some handling.
Montgomerie soon fell victim, after fending him off only as far as the hands of backward short leg, but Fordham held on, taking blows on the hand and various parts of his anatomy in the process, and at one point shrugging his shoulders helplessly at the umpire, as if to suggest that Wasim was once again treading the fine line between fair and unfair play that he has walked before.
By then, however, Northamptonshire had set out their stall to make their way as positively as possible to the distant follow-on figure of 288, with the spinners increasing the pressure on them.
They could have done with a few hours of Rob Bailey at his most rugged, but he touched a wideish one from Ian Austin to the wicketkeeper and promptly marched off without awaiting a verdict, while Fordham battled bravely through the pain barrier.
He must have thought that the worst was behind him. Michael Watkinson, however, had found his line, turned the ball slowly from the start and, when Fordham aimed to push him through the covers, the ball did just enough to bowl him between bat and pad, perhaps off an inside edge.
At the other end, Gary Keedy found he could straighten the occasional one from around off stump, which probably raised a few more Northamptonshire eyebrows, but did not stop Russell Warren banging him over the top to the boundary once or twice.
But a good deal of care was now a prime requirement, and Mal Loye, playing only half forward to Watkinson, was also bowled through the gate. Kevin Curran's attempt to hit Keedy over the top merely led to an excellent running catch in the deep by Graham Lloyd.
While Warren picked his way to an invaluable half-century, David Capel scored only a single in 22 overs. He rarely looked in trouble, however, which was a reminder that Northamptonshire have the depth of batting to save this match, if that is now their main ambition after having lost the toss.Reuse content