With England coach Trevor Bayliss and national selector James Whittaker both watching on, all eyes were on Hampshire skipper James Vince, who was given the perfect chance to press home his Test claims on the first morning at Emirates Old Trafford.
Instead it was Lancashire who stole the headlines with a sensational bowling performance to skittle Hampshire, including Vince for a duck, and take full control of the contest.
Having won the toss in seemingly ideal batting conditions, Vince wouldn’t have dreamed Hampshire would have been all out for just 109 midway through the afternoon. But Lancashire produced an enviable collective effort in the field and further showed their potential to not just compete at this level but to thrive.
Their utter domination of the opening salvo in this match was completed by a marvellous unbroken stand of 104 between Haseeb Hameed and Luke Procter as Lancashire turned the screw on their injury-hit visitors to be firmly in the ascendancy heading into Day Two.
At the start of the day the coin was tossed, as it will always be at Old Trafford, and Hampshire will have been pleased as punch to win it. Sunny skies, good pitch, bat first was the easy option for Vince.
But he found himself at the crease much earlier than he would have liked. After a terrific opening burst from James Anderson and Kyle Jarvis, including Jimmy Adams being dropped by Alviro Petersen, Lancashire had their breakthrough.
Anderson tempted Adams into the drive and Karl Brown produced a wonderful diving catch at third slip to leave Hampshire 13-1.
Enter Vince, with England eyes on him. Widely tipped to be in the Test squad, and with Bayliss and Whittaker watching on, it was a chance to shine. He rather fluffed his lines.
After eight dot balls, Vince pushed down the ground and took off for a risky single, but was brilliant run-out by a magnificent piece of fielding by Lancashire skipper Steven Croft at mid-off. Vince was gone for a duck and Hampshire were struggling at 14-2.
It wasn’t to get any better before lunch, as Lancashire hammered home the initiative. Two wickets in two balls from Neil Wagner left the score at 34-4. First the New Zealander had Michael Carberry caught behind for 16 before he delivered a searing Yorker which crunched Liam Dawson on the toes plumb in front.
On the stroke of lunch, Procter joined the party with his first wicket of the season as Will Smith was caught down the leg side by Alex Davies. At the interval, Hampshire were all over the place at 57-5.
The remaining five wickets fell before tea, starting with Croft producing another piece of magic in the field, diving full length at mid off to catch Ryan McLaren’s wayward drive off Anderson. A savage bouncer from Jarvis flicked the glove of debutant Gareth Andrews and Hampshire were staring down the barrel at 66-7.
In came Tino ‘mind the windows’ Best and the enigmatic West Indian attempted the counter-punch, unfurling a lovely straight drive before becoming Anderson’s third victim. Adam Wheater showed some resilience, posting a battling 32 but Procter returned to wrap up the innings.
Both Wheater and then James Tomlinson dragged him onto their stumps, the latter for a duck, as Hampshire were skittled for 109. Having won the toss in favourable batting conditions, Vince’s men had been humbled by a magnificent Lancashire effort.
The last thing Hampshire needed was for Lancashire to get off to a flyer, but that’s exactly what they did. The Red Rose’s opening pair of Brown and Hameed put on a 50 stand after just 8.1 overs. Brown had reached 40 from just 32 balls when Gareth Andrew struck with his first ball for Hampshire, trapping Brown lbw to leave Lancashire 53-1.
But 19-year-old Hameed batted with great maturity alongside Procter, and they batted for the entire evening session, easing their way to a century stand from 203 balls. Both will return tomorrow looking to secure their own half-centuries.
Lancashire can reflect on a near-perfect day of Championship cricket, while Hampshire are facing an uphill task to take anything from this game.