Events at the Oval and here at Chelmsford during day three of the LV= County Championship fixture between Essex and Lancashire put paid to any realistic hopes Lancashire had of gaining promotion to Division One as Champions. Despite James Anderson’s efficiency in cleaning up the Essex tail during the morning session and a solid start to the Lancashire reply thereafter, the loss of a further 32 overs to the weather after Tuesday’s washout and Essex’s solid performance with the bat make a Lancashire victory improbable.
Meanwhile, a Surrey victory over Northants remains the most likely outcome in South London, despite a spirited start to the visitors’ second innings after they were forced to follow-on.
As such, leapfrogging Surrey into first place by securing nine more points than they can in the final round of Championship now looks beyond Lancashire. A continuation of Northants’ spirited resistance this afternoon, and then some sort of contrivance here seems to be the Twenty20 Champions’ only chance.
After Essex resumed their first innings on 328-7, an irresistible spell from Anderson saw the home side dismissed for 394 within fifteen overs. Having taken all three of Essex’s remaining wickets, the England star finished with figures of 7-77 in 31.5 overs, his best figures in a Lancashire shirt and a career second-best behind his 7-43 for England versus New Zealand at Trent Bridge in 2008.
Anderson’s previous best for Lancashire came in the win against Hampshire in Division One of the Frizzell County Championship at the Rose Bowl in 2002. Hampshire were docked eight points for a substandard pitch in that match.
There will be no such penalties for Essex in this fixture, the Chelmsford wicket playing true. This made Anderson’s performance yesterday and today all the more impressive.
James Foster was his first victim, falling in the seventh over of the day. The Essex captain was teased into following a ball that left him coquettishly outside the off stump, but could only make contact with his outside edge. He was caught at second slip by Karl Brown having added nine to his overnight score of 17.
Becoming the second Essex batsman in the match to be dismissed after hitting the previous ball for six, the other being Jesse Ryder yesterday, Graham Napier went four overs later. He was out leg before for 31, having just flicked a rare Anderson full toss for six over mid-wicket.
Essex’s innings came to a close when Jamie Porter gave Anderson a seventh wicket for just the second time in his career when he was unable to prevent the ball from taking the top of his middle and off stumps.
Anderson was a teenager playing in his fourth Championship match when he took his previous best figures for Lancashire in that match at Southampton thirteen years ago. All 413 of his test wickets lay ahead of him. It was another teenager also playing in his fourth Championship match, and who might just have a bright future in the test arena as well, who impressed the most as Lancashire set about their first innings.
Haseeb Hameed played a classical opener’s innings for his 63. Rock solid in defence, resisting all temptation outside the off stump, focusing only on survival whilst the ball was new, the 18 year-old from Bolton, alongside Karl Brown, saw Lancashire through to 23-0 at lunch without alarm.
Hameed does not score quickly, but he is not boring. Far from it. There is great pleasure in watching such an organised player. It is joy in the age of unorthodox and aggressive opening batsmen to see the ball left and defended with such panache. Hameed’s defensive technique – high elbow, straight bat, soft hands, ball played as late as possible – will have purists purring around the country, and dare I say it, the world. Michael Atherton springs to mind, particularly when the ball is let go.
The real beauty of such a technique is that it provides the basis for a batsmen to begin playing shots, once he is set and has performed his primary duty in seeing off the new ball.
Having initially dealt in singles, Hameed began to find the boundary. He timed the ball exquisitely, eliminating the need for any great force. Punches off the back foot, cover drives, leg glances and cuts all brought him low-risk fours.
So chanceless was Hameed’s progress to a 106 ball half-century, that it was something of a shock when he edged Jesse Ryder to Alastair Cook at first slip in the 46th over of the innings to depart for 60 of 126 balls, including ten fours. Essex’s seamers had found Hameed’s edge before, but those soft hands ensured the ball went safely to ground, rather than to hand.
The warm applause from a healthy crowd as he trudged towards the pavilion suggested that the locals realised that Haseeb Hameed’s is a name worth remembering.
His was the second Lancashire wicket to fall, after Graham Napier strangled Brown down the legside in the 27th over of the innings with the score on 66. Dropped on 17 by his near-namesake Nick Browne and struggling for fluency, he had battled his way to 39.
Only 2.4 more overs were possible after Hameed’s dismissal before bad light prompted a tea break brought forward by two deliveries. Rain soon followed and prevented anymore play for the day with Essex on 124-2.