If Yorkshire lose today they will be a step nearer relegation, bottom with four games remaining. If Lancashire should win, and they need another 263 runs, they will probably stay up and the North will lose an institution, at least temporarily: for the first time since 1944 there will be no Roses match next year.
Perhaps it is the uncertainty that has given this encounter (the 250th by Lancashire's count, 238 according to Yorkshire – you wouldn't expect them to agree) such a febrile ambience.
The morning, by Roses' tradition, was two hours of madness. Nightwatchman Steve Kirby struck a handsome four and then departed to James Anderson, leaving his batsmen the main business of the day. Anderson struck again, his pace induced a nick from Vic Craven brilliantly taken low at slip.
After Matt Elliott and Anthony McGrath had diligently added 18 in five overs, McGrath risked a quick single to midwicket where Anderson swooped and ran out Yorkshire's new Australian.
With his side struggling at 39 for 4, McGrath, angry with himself, responded with flurry of fours. The left-hander Michael Lumb was undone by the turn of Gary Keedy but McGrath continued attacking as did his next partner, Gary Fellows. As the sun fried Manchester, Lancashire's bowling, like the ball, lost its shine and the lead extended to 136 by lunch.
Indeed the fifth-wicket pair might have taken the game beyond Lancashire's reach but for a stroke of luck. Glen Chapple, stooping to try to catch a low fierce drive from Fellows, failed to hold the ball but it crashed into the stumps with McGrath out of his ground.
That stopped the shenanigans. Richard Blakey's arrival restored a proper Roses tempo – at one point two boundaries had come in 15 overs – Fellows, however passed his career-best 63 and added to Lancashire's hurt by clattering short leg Mark Chilton.
Fellows ("Mouse" to the Yorkshire dressing room) reached his maiden century on an overthrow as wickets continued to fall around him. He was tempted out, sweeping at Keedy, and Lancashire were left 12 overs in which they made hay until Alec Swann lost his off stump and the nightwatchman fell in the leg trap.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies