It was t-shirt and shorts weather at Old Trafford. Some even dispensed with the shirt. One or two went a step further, dispensing with the shorts – opting instead for a rather eye-catching pair of speedos.
Despite that potential distraction, the fine weather and agreeable batting conditions triggered a welcome return to form for Lancashire opener Keaton Jennings. The summer signing from Durham grafted and scrapped before finding some of the touch and class that earned him Test match status with England.
His efforts contributed to getting Lancashire back into a position of relative strength after Somerset posted a commanding first innings total.
It was a total set up on the opening day, of course, by centuries for both Marcus Trescothick and George Bartlett, but on the second morning the visitors were guided by skipper Tom Abell.
Resuming on 48 overnight, with his side 321-5, Abell made it to his half-century from the eighth ball he faced on Saturday morning. It was a gritty knock, coming from 136 balls, but having made that mark he began to score with greater fluidity, despite losing Lewis Gregory for 10.
In fact, he made his next 48 runs at almost a run-a-ball, before becoming stuck on 98, and then 99. Craig Overton was dismissed during Abell’s torment, tamely chipping Matt Parkinson to James Anderson at mid-wicket.
Having spent ten balls one short of his century, Abell was agonisingly dismissed by Joe Mennie, as the Australian trapped the Somerset skipper and denied him what would have been a terrific hundred.
Those two dismissals left Somerset 415-8, before Jack Leach came and went for a duck. Somerset had lost three wickets in ten balls without advancing the score.
Tim Groenewald tonked a six over mid-wicket but the innings was concluded soon after, Parkinson trapping Paul van Meekeren for six, giving Somerset a first innings total of 429.
Headlines had been grabbed on the opening day by Lancashire’s decision to omit Haseeb Hameed, the England opener’s continued struggle for runs seeing him dropped for the first time in his first-class career.
The irony was that these were by far the best conditions for batting he would have encountered this season. Clear blue skies and a fantastic batting track at Old Trafford presented a perfect situation to find some form.
📸 Old Trafford in the May sunshine. Perfect day for @CountyChamp pic.twitter.com/cLb73N4yAx
— Scott Hunt (@scotthunt92) May 5, 2018
As it was, it was Jennings who made the most of that opportunity. He didn’t start in particularly convincing fashion but was watchful and well-disciplined against the new ball.
Alex Davies scored with freedom as his opening partner before edging Groenewald behind for 23. Lancashire captain Liam Livingstone failed to press his England claims, dismissed by Test squad colleague Jack Leach for just six.
That left Lancashire teetering at 48-2 in the face of Somerset’s imposing total. But Jennings offered the resilience they needed and found a willing and able partner in Dane Vilas.
Jennings’ half-century was his first in first-class cricket since June 2017, when he notched one for the England Lions against South Africa A at Canterbury. It was a patient innings, coming from 141 balls but was extremely valuable to him and his side.
The pair put on a century stand from 216 balls, turning up the heat on Somerset as the crowds basked in the warmth of the Manchester sunshine.
Vilas was quicker in reaching his own half-century, that brought up from 105 balls with a pull to leg in the 54th over of the innings. It’s the first time the South African has reached a Championship fifty since making a first-class best of 244 against Hampshire in June 2017.
The pair batted through to the close, taking their third-wicket partnership past 150 and Lancashire past 200. They closed 217-2, still 212 behind Somerset’s first-innings total but in a comfortable position.
Jennings was the story. Many have waited for him to find his feet again and today was the day. He will resume on 91, chasing his first century since April last season.
Ones mind did wonder what Hameed thought watching on, as his new opening partner found form in such glorious conditions.
It brought to mind a touch of Jim Bowen in Bullseye. ‘Here’s a look at what you could have won’.