Lancashire collapsed in a heap and Durham, with the notable exception of Dale Benkenstein, followed suit on a day on which a worried Aigburth groundsman will have been reassured to be told that the dominance of ball over bat was officially disproportionate to the conditions.
When as many wickets tumble as did yesterday, suspicion tends to fall first on the batting surface, but Peter Walker, on pitch patrol duty for the England and Wales Cricket Board, made a point of announcing at lunchtime that he was perfectly happy with what he had seen and reiterated that view at tea.
"It is a very good pitch, as good as I've seen. There is not a mark on it," Walker said, which will come as a relief to Terry Glover, the Liverpool Cricket Club groundsman. Walker's other telling comment was that it was "hard to believe these are the top two sides in the Championship", which would be less pleasing to the ears of the batsmen representing the current leaders and their closest pursuers.
But that is not to say that poor batting fully explained why 18 wickets fell in the first two sessions as second-placed Lancashire were bowled out for their lowest total in 14 years and Durham tumbled to 102-8 in reply. To give credit where it is due, the bowlers on both sides did their job rather well.
Callum Thorp was particularly impressive, finding an off-stump line and length that drew batsmen repeatedly into playing at a ball that was swinging and getting help – albeit not excessively – from a pitch with a good covering of grass. The 36-year-old medium pacer finished with 6 for 20. Three of his victims were taken by wicketkeeper Phil Mustard, another two caught in the slips.
Stephen Harmison could not muster the same control but Graham Onions was largely on the money and for Lancashire there were impressive bursts from Kyle Hogg and Saj Mahmood. Pakistan's Junaid Khan, a 21-year-old left-arm quick who has joined Lancashire on Wasim Akram's recommendation, looked sharp, too, taking a debut wicket.
But Durham's great strength is that any one of seven or eight in their line-up has the capacity to make a score. This time it was Benkenstein who applied himself, finishing unbeaten on 83 as Durham clawed their way to what may already be a match-winning position.
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