It’s probably fair to say that the eyes of the cricketing world were not on Old Trafford at 11am this morning, as a certain Mr. Strauss chose a particularly inconvenient time to tell the world a certain Mr. Pietersen wasn’t trusted and his selection wasn’t ‘in the short-term interests’ of the England team.
Lancashire will probably feel that selecting Paul Horton for their next Championship game will be ‘in the short-term interests’ of the team, despite his knock of 168 here paling into insignificance when compared to Pietersen’s unbeaten 355 at The Oval.
Horton, who resumed on 134 this morning looked in total control as he passed his 150 and fell just five runs short of his best ever Lancashire score. His efforts were crucial in getting his side within touching distance of Gloucestershire’s first-innings total as they eventually trailed by 24.
Despite early breakthroughs, a century stand between Peter Handscomb and Hamish Marshall ensured that it is Gloucestershire who go into the final day hoping for victory as they closed Day Three with a commanding lead of 230 and will set about teeing up a victory charge in the morning.
Lancashire started the third day knowing that late wickets last evening had left them with work to do to keep themselves in the game. With Horton at the crease they had a man in form and he found a more than able deputy in Peter Siddle. Resuming on 276/6, a deficit of 112, Horton and Siddle extended their partnership to 82 before Liam Norwell trapped Siddle lbw shortly after he had caught him on the helmet with a bouncer.
Horton fell nine balls later and the final three Lancashire wickets yielded just 17 runs. Norwell finished the innings with four wickets to back up the ten wickets he took in the match against Essex last week and move himself to the second highest wicket-taker in Division Two.
The 24-run lead was obviously positive for Gloucestershire but Lancashire knew that early inroads could give them the momentum in the match. Cue Siddle, who charged in from the Pavilion end and soon had his reward. Chris Dent, off the back of his century in the first innings, shouldered arms to a full ball that nipped back and sent his off stump cartwheeling. That left Gloucestershire 9/1 and, at 30/1, Siddle struck again when he trapped Gareth Roderick plumb lbw for four.
When rain came at 3.22pm, an early tea was taken and Will Tavare and Peter Handscomb had battled hard under the floodlights to reach 64-2 from 21 overs and hold a lead of 88. The game was finely balanced. A string of Lancashire wickets would leave the visitors feeling edgy about their slender lead but, if Gloucestershire could steady the ship and build on their advantage in the lengthy evening session, they could seize the initiative heading into the final day.
Pressure intensified on Gloucestershire when Nathan Buck got reward for some good bowling and claimed his first Championship wicket for Lancashire as he forced Will Tavare, who had looked in good nick, to chop onto his stumps for 34. That left the score at 76-3 and that lead a precarious 100.
But Handscomb and Marshall ensured that it wasn’t precarious for long. Marshall came in and got off to a flyer with a string of boundaries and the runs began to flow. Handscomb was the first to bring up his 50 off 99 balls and he was followed soon after by Marshall who took 83 balls for his half-century. When their fourth-wicket stand had reached 100, they had stretched the lead to 200. It was no longer precarious and from a Lancashire perspective it was looking increasingly insurmountable.
At the close, Gloucestershire had reached 206/3 and a lead of 230. While the smart money remains firmly on a draw on what is still a fairly batsman-friendly wicket, the final session has given the visitors the chance to set up a tilt at the win and has left Lancashire realistically with only the draw to play for.