Essex seizes the opportunity to set up a victory drive as England’s extra batter hits 135 off of 125.
Lancashire’s bowlers then enjoyed their only good half-hour of the day,
Lancashire 145 (S Cook 4-42) is outscored by Essex 282 and 292 for 8 (Lawrence 135, Bracewell 61*) by 429 runs. Yesterday, it was discovered that the stumps were missing at Stanley Park just before the scheduled start of play. Over the following eight hours, there were doubtless times when Lancashire fans wished that no one had bothered to look for the bloody things. The locals may have thought that the rain that delayed the start of our day’s cricket by 45 minutes and then temporarily paused it in the middle of the day would hose down for approximately 36 hours. Anything to avoid watching their team crumble like a bombed-out apartment building and then provide the worst outfield performance of the season. But Essex is the kind of team that pounces on these flaws like a hungry piranha. Their seam attack brilliantly took advantage of Lancashire’s batting weaknesses to gain a first-innings lead of 137. In the final third of the day, Dan Lawrence, the extra batter in England’s Ashes squad who departs for Surrey at the end of the season, launched a pretty savage assault on Keaton Jennings’ discouraged bowlers and demoralized fielders. Lawrence took advantage of the home team’s weaknesses to smash nine sixes, losing at least three balls in the adjacent park, reaching his third century with his fifth maximum, and hitting four more of the rascals before being caught at long-on by Jennings for 135 after 125 balls in the final over of the day.
While the two added 106 runs in eight balls less than nine overs at the other end, Doug Bracewell, who was unbeaten at 61, will only be remembered as a footnote to this day’s game. Lawrence will be on the minds of headline writers, Essex supporters will be wondering whether their team can secure a fourth victory of the year, and Lancashire supporters will be praying for safety from the storm. However, cricket is rarely that accommodating, and the Essex attack’s ruthless destruction of Lancashire’s first innings will torture the locals’ sleep. Tom Westley’s quicker bowlers went to work with a rare will, hampered by the Kookaburra ball loathed across the county game. After surviving the newish ball and reaching 76 for 1, Lancashire lost eight wickets for 45 runs each side of lunch, and it took Phil Salt’s six over square leg to save them from an Essex follow-on that might not have been necessary in any event. Four of the wickets were taken by Sam Cook, while Paul Walter also got three in eight balls right before the first break. The scorecard could have been beaten at times by the speed of the cricket, but Lancashire did not supply those accessories for the third day of this match. They were wise to do so.
The coaches in Lancashire shouldn’t be so understanding. Some of Lancashire’s top order had to be worked out by Essex’s seamers, who bowled with the brutality of players who saw an opportunity to gain a match-winning edge. For instance, Jennings pushed at a ball from Cook that nipped away and went to Matt Critchley at second slip via the border. The batter was nearly responsible for other dismissals. Dane Vilas was one of the latter group; nonetheless, he was soundly defeated by Bracewell’s direct hit from the covers after pushing his second ball towards the off-side and calling Josh Bohannon for a dangerous single. Rob Jones and Tom Hartley made excellent catches when searching for balls far outside the off stump. The innings came to an absurd conclusion when Tom Bailey dodged what he thought was a beamer from Cook, only to have the ball lurch into his stumps.
Lancashire’s bowlers then enjoyed their only good half-hour of the day, having been dismissed for 145 and been considerably down in the game. Nick Browne padded up to Bailey’s third delivery of the second innings and was sent for a pair after being caught at slip for a four-ball duck in the first innings. It’s unlikely that the opening will make anybody think fondly of Blackpool or even of Bailey’s bowling. Alastair Cook was out for nothing in the following over after cutting Will Williams to Vilas at some point. Ten overs later, Westley was also bowled out by the same bowler. But for Lancashire, a score of 27 for 3 and a 164-run deficit was the best of the day. They did manage to take five more wickets, but those victories served only as a backdrop to Essex’s quick accumulation, and at times it appeared as though the home team’s discipline was breaking them. The only small solace for the home crowd is that Essex did not declare 30 minutes before the end and that their starters did not have to suffer further humiliation on their team’s worst day of the year. Lancashire only needs to bat out on the last day to secure the five points necessary for a draw. It will put them to the test more so than a run-chase would. But a sad statistic comes to mind after the day is over, and it is clear how far apart the two sides are. Essex has won seven County Championships in the last 40 years, while Lancashire has only managed one.
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