There will have been a degree of trepidation about Lancashire on their return to Division One. Their last two top flight seasons have resulted in relegation and, with a young and inexperienced squad, Ashley Giles’ men were more than aware of their vulnerability.
But, if their first day display at Old Trafford against Nottinghamshire is a marker for their season, there is reason for Lancashire fans to be optimistic.
Having been asked to field, Lancashire produced a tremendous bowling display, spearheaded by overseas debutant Neil Wagner who took six wickets, to dismiss title-contenders Notts for 242. They then lost opener Karl Brown but otherwise survived a testing final 19 overs to walk off at the close as much the happier side.
The day began with the rare sight these days on a cricket field of a coin toss. It remains the only toss that has taken place in Division One this season and Nottinghamshire won it, electing to bat.
When they walked in for lunch at 73-4, visiting skipper Chris Read may have been wishing the coin had never gone up and he’d simply elected to field.
But Lancashire were superb with the ball in that opening session. James Anderson was on the money from the word go, while new-ball partner Kyle Jarvis took a little longer to find his rhythm.
But find it he did. After his first three overs disappeared for 20, Jarvis then had Steven Mullaney caught behind for 19 before trapping Michael Lumb lbw for 14 in the fourth ball of his second spell to reduce Notts to 48-2.
Enter Wagner who showed pace, swing and aggression to remove first Greg Smith for 17 and then scatter Brendan Taylor’s stumps for just three as Lancashire ended the first session well on top.
After lunch, the partnership between Riki Wessels and Samit Patel was showing signs of promise for the visitors before both departed with the score on 98.
Jarvis returned to trap Samit Patel for 11 and Wagner did the same to Wessels for 27 just three balls later. At 98-6, having won the toss, things were looking tricky for Read’s men.
But it was the captain himself, alongside England’s Stuart Broad, who got things moving the right way for them again.
They put on a fifty partnership from just 69 balls and Broad had counterpunched tremendously to rack up 43 (45) when he went for too big a swing off Simon Kerrigan and was bowled. But they had pushed the score on to 172-7 and dragged Notts back in to contention.
The aggressive intent continued as Jake Ball dispatched Jarvis for two sixes in successive overs and he and Read marched off for tea at 214-7 having put Notts in a position where Lancashire would have been wary of keeping control of the game.
Cue Wagner, who stormed back after tea showing all of his international class to finish the innings off. First to depart was Ball for 33, caught behind by Davies before Jackson Bird went in the same manner having added just one to the score.
Read brought up his well-grafted half-century from 106 balls but was the last man to go, caught in the deep for 52, as Lancashire dismissed their visitors for 242 on a good pitch at Old Trafford.
Wagner finished with 6-66 on debut and was ably supported by Kyle Jarvis, who took 3-72 and Simon Kerrigan’s 12 overs cost just 1-20. It was a terrific performance by the Lancs bowling unit, made even more so by the fact key man James Anderson went wicketless.
Lancashire were left facing a testing 19 overs before the end of the day, and it became all the tougher when opener Karl Brown departed without a run on the board, falling lbw to the in-form Ball while not playing a shot.
That left 19-year-old Haseeb Hameed and Luke Procter, who didn’t play a Championship game last season, at the crease.
But the pair showed great resolve to keep Notts at bay and Lancashire finished on 25-1. They will know that greater tests will come tomorrow, with batting their undoubted weakness, but will be boosted by the first day of the season in which they showed their potential to mix it with the best in Division One.