Had rain not taken so much time out of it, this encounter might have provided the Championship with another late season classic. First versus second meeting under tough conditions, twisting the title chase one way or the other. Victory for Lancashire could have halved the 36 point deficit between them and the leaders, whereas a win for Essex, over their only realistic challengers, would have all but guaranteed them top spot. Four of the divisions top thirteen run-scorers – Alex Davies, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Liam Livingstone and Dane Vilas of Lancashire – pitted against its two leading wicket takers – Simon Harmer and Jamie Porter from Essex.
Unfortunately, what could have been a cracker turned out out to be nothing more than a damp squib, ending after a fruitless and, depending on your view of cricket etiquette, possibly undignified scramble for bonus points.
The original forecast for the final day had been that of a complete washout. However, after a morning of mopping up, play eventually resumed over three hours later than scheduled. Only 32 overs were completed before, having passed 200 and gained a batting point, Essex promptly declared (202 for 8). Thus denying the Red rose county a chance to take the new ball and search for a further point. The brief afternoon action had given each side one to add to the three they both already had.
What happened next is rather confusing – for a game that was clearly going nowhere, I had decided to do likewise and was following events on Twitter from home. Seemingly, Lancashire swiftly made a declaration of their own and hands were immediately shaken on a draw a little after ten past four – the two innings breaks having technically taken the game into the final hour, despite not having physically taken place. Quite how many in the stands had waited around to witness this curious turn of events, I cannot say. The preceding three days had mostly been a waiting game.
Firstly, a wait for suitable conditions to get the players on the field and then a wait to see how long before they were chased from it. That the most noteworthy aspect of the little cricket on show was a batsmen refraining from playing any shots, says a lot about the nature of this encounter. Patience was the key, both at the crease and in the stands. The first day would be completely written off at lunch, lost to the elements. The second would only get going at the fourth attempt, although Lancashire might have wished it hadn’t.
At a dark and dismal Old Trafford, where floodlights shone from the outset, Alex Davies set the tone by stretching wide and forward to only the third delivery of the day in an attempted drive that ended up in the grateful hands of second slip.
Within the opening eleven overs, the home side were three batsmen down with a mere 22 runs on the board. It could easily have been worse had a diving Dan Lawrence at gully held onto a flashing drive from Haseeb Hameed in the second over. This was not a day for attacking verve and adventurous strokeplay. Anything too aggressive greeted, more often than not, with a raised finger.
It has been a steep learning curve for Hameed this year, so having been given a second chance he was clearly in no mood to offer Essex another. All risk was eliminated as he blocked and left his way to lunch. By the time he and elder statesman Shivnarine Chanderpaul were off the field at the break, they had added 23 since the fall of Dane Vilas. However, only a single run had come from the bat of the younger partner. In just 78 minutes of a truncated morning session he had registered 5 from 48 balls.
His circumspect approach was in stark contrast to his teammates as, with play barely having begun in the afternoon, bums having only just settled back onto seats, Chanderpaul wafted a harmless leg side delivery into the gloves of the wicketkeeper behind him for the fourth wicket. Essex didn’t have to wait long for the fifth as Jos Buttler, in his final appearance before joining up with England’s limited overs squad, flashed the same drive to gully that almost accounted for Hameed earlier in the day, only for Lawrence to hold on this time. In an extended cameo, Buttler’s six first-class innings this summer have totalled 90 runs. Any chance of a Test recall seem to be slipping away.
Whilst Buttler was washed away by the tide, Hameed was anchored in place. 11 runs from 73 deliveries – his first boundary, a straight drive for four had come off his 53rd. Ryan McLaren, as he has done so often this season, provided some middle order stability before he was seduced by the siren call of Simon Harmer’s spin into playing the ball onto his own stumps rather than some far off spot in the distance.
Lancashire were 92-6, Hameed 15 from 122. The next delivery he faced gave him his second boundary, 70 balls after the first. Before Sam Cook removed Jordan Clark after a 53 run partnership, a change had come over the supposed Bolton Blocker – 33 of those runs were his. The Hameed of summer 2016 had finally appeared.
After he brought up his first Championship half-century at Old Trafford of the year, in 189 balls, the occasion was promptly marked by the lofting of a delicious six off Harmer, sandwiched between a couple of finely executed, bread and butter forward defensives.
It was a day where a batsmen’s stay at the crease was in as much danger from the unfriendly skies overhead as it was from anything the bowler could serve up. In the space of an over Jamie Porter removed Stephen Parry – ending a partnership of 77 – with the first sight of the new ball and then the umpires removed the players from the field due to bad light. Haseeb Hameed was still there on 85 not out, his highest score of 2017, from 233 deliveries.
The third morning, the only one that begun on time at the early September start of 10:30, brought with it a brighter sky and a sense of hope. Not hope of a full days play – heavy rain was due to rudely interrupt proceedings sometime between three and four o’clock – but hope of a first century of the year for Hameed. The previous nights abrupt ending had left the young Lancashire opener having to start again and to do so while faced with a new ball just six deliveries old – essentially having to open the batting for the second day in succession.
Fifteen runs shy of a hundred when he walked out, Hameed would head back twenty balls later, his innings finished on 88. His downfall a Porter delivery that had kept low and pinned him back in his crease – the impressive Essex bowler completing a five-wicket haul in the process and leapfrogging his teammate Harmer for the division lead.
Ashes Aside No. 1
Were I an England selector – and if the rumours are true, I probably watch more county cricket than Trevor Bayliss; in fact, most of the people who read this will probably watch more county cricket than Trevor Bayliss – I would not pick Hameed this winter. Whilst this was the best I’ve seen him bat all year, I’m just not convinced he’s in good enough form for the likes of Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins. He is still only twenty years of age, his time will come.
Ashes Aside No. 2
When referring to a call-up for the imminent Australian tour, can we please dispense with the phrase, ‘get him on the plane’. As far as I’m aware, none of the five Tests will be played inside an aircraft. Instead, I propose the much more accurate, ‘get him to the Gabba’. Thank you.
Once Hameed was gone, the brightness did rather go out of this game. The skies noticeably darkened overhead and, by the time Essex had begun their innings, the floodlights were, once more, in full effect. Varun Chopra would be the only other batsmen on either side to make more than 35 runs. His 40 coming at a marginally quicker strike rate than that of Hameed.
As the gloom steadily took over and the appearance of the light meter became more frequent, Lancashire’s spinners were installed at either end in an effort to delay the inevitable. With heavy showers also on the horizon, it once again became a matter of waiting. Would it be the rain or bad light which brought the day, and possibly the game, to a premature close.
In the end it was neither. The final ball of the afternoon session brought the wicket of Bopara (c Livingstone b Parry for 34). The tea break brought the rain and the ground staff brought the covers. A little more than twenty-four hours later, this game would be over. Lancashire still 36 points adrift, but Essex one game closer to the Championship.