The doubt niggling at the confidence of some Lancashire fans as Glen Chapple's team seek to end the county's title drought is that too few batsmen are delivering substantial scores but Steven Croft addressed those concerns yesterday to give his side every chance of securing an eighth win of the season.
The 24-year-old all-rounder from Blackpool, who went in with Lancashire 84 for three and still seven runs in arrears in a match equally important to the ambitions of third-placed Warwickshire, turned the contest in Lancashire's favour despite world-record-equalling efforts from Rikki Clarke in the field.
Clarke, a renowned specialist slip, held seven catches in the innings, matching the highest number by an outfielder set by Surrey's Mickey Stewart in 1957 and equalled by Tony Brown of Gloucestershire nine years later. Fielding at second slip, he took five catches off Warwickshire's seamers and another two fielding to the off-spinner Jeetan Patel.
Having taken two catches in the first innings, he became one of only two outfielders in the history of the first-class game to hold nine in a match, the other being the former England captain Wally Hammond, another specialist slip, who caught 10 for Gloucestershire against Surrey at Cheltenham in 1928.
Clarke had extra reason, therefore, for regretting that he dropped a relatively easy chance offered by Stephen Moore in Lancashire's first innings. However, he still has one more chance after Lancashire closed on 374 for nine, giving them a lead of 283.
"I can't take too much credit because the bowlers toiled away on a decent wicket with the sun out and got the edges and it is my job to catch them," he said. "I was disappointed with the drop but that one was tough because it moved in the air." "But I catch nine out of 10," he added, which on this occasion was a true statement, rather than a literal one.
Lancashire's advantage might be too much for Warwickshire on a pitch that will not play easily on the last day. Any humidity will bring swing back into play and there is enough turn and bounce for left-arm spinner Gary Keedy to be licking his lips.
Croft held the innings together for three hours, equalling his career-best in a manner that was more or less chanceless save for almost running himself out on 98 when he pushed Patel to mid on. Laurie Evans's throw missed the stumps and after diving full length he was able to take an extra run on the overthrow to reach his hundred.
He had reached 122 when he edged Keith Barker – to Clarke. It was only Lancashire's fourth hundred in the Championship this year but Brown almost added another, reaching 91 before being undone by a lifter from Boyd Rankin that made him victim No 6 for the other man of the moment.
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