After a diet of fast-paced white-ball cricket for the last month or so, Lancashire and Essex served up an engaging and fiercely-contested opening day at Old Trafford to herald the return of the County Championship.
Last season’s top two showed, in patches, exactly why they finished in those lofty positions.
It was a day that began with the reigning champions Essex raising a few eyebrows by electing to omit the toss and bowl first, before utilising their strong bowling unit to make significant inroads into Lancashire’s batting ranks.
But Lancashire fought back as the day wore on, showing significant resolve which was evident so often with their backs against the wall last season, to leave things even at the close.
Despite the presence of some of the country’s finest cricketers – including England opening pair Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings – this match couldn’t claim to be boasting the biggest name on show in Manchester.
That honour went to Taylor Swift, who is beginning her worldwide tour with two nights in the city.
It’s fair to say that Essex fans have something of a love story with Jamie Porter and he began justifying Essex’s decision to bowl by removing Alex Davies for two with seven runs on the board.
Last season’s top wicket-taker also sent Jennings on his way, both openers caught in the slips, and Haseeb Hameed wouldn’t add many more runs. He battled hard for his five but fell to his 38th ball faced, caught behind off former teammate Neil Wagner.
Essex were firmly on top when Sam Cook got in on the act, forcing Liam Livingstone to push at one and edge to second slip. Look what you made me do, he may have thought.
That left Lancashire 40-4 and they battled through to a hard-earned 59-4 at lunch. It was 59-5 though just nine balls after the interval, Dane Vilas a second wicket for Cook – gone for 10.
But Essex knew that Shivnarine Chanderpaul was trouble when he walked in. There are few more capable batsmen in world cricket to dig in when it’s needed than the veteran West Indian and he showed all of his powers of resolve in the afternoon session.
Having scrapped his way to lunch, the left-hander continued to fight alongside Jordan Clark. The pair shared an incredibly-valuable century stand, brought up just after the tea break.
Chanderpaul passed 50 for the 221st time in his remarkable career and the 43-year-old was guiding his side back into a solid position.
Clark was struck on the helmet by a fierce Wagner bouncer, but managed to shake it off. He was the more fluent of the pair during their stand, showing plenty of style and making his own half-century from just 58 balls and together they had pushed Lancashire on to 190-5.
But Simon Harmer struck twice to remove both within three balls, Chanderpaul bowled by one that straightened for 54 and Clark chopping on for 79.
At 193-7 Lancashire were more than aware that they weren’t out of the woods. Tyson Fury was another big name appearing in Manchester on Saturday, the former world champion making his long-awaited return to the ring.
Like Fury, Essex were looking for a knockout blow that would give them the edge on day one. But Lancashire’s lower order produced a couple of pesky partnerships to frustrate the visitors.
Tom Bailey and Joe Mennie put on 34 for the eighth wicket, before Bailey and Onions delivered a dashing stand of 52 for the ninth from just 40 balls. Onions fell for 41 from 32 delieries.
After the morning session it was Essex’s day but now everything has changed. From 59-5, Lancashire closing on 297-9 would have been beyond their wildest dreams.
Having done so, they will be fairly content with their position heading into day two.