Northamptonshire 302 (Gay 144, Procter 75) defeated Lancashire.
Sporting fashion is so contagious that whenever a county has deviated from cricket orthodoxy or attempted to force the tempo in a match this season, local commentators have sought to identify it as some variation of England’s current methods. Lancashire have not been immune to this nonsense; Chazball is a current favorite, despite the fact that their head coach, Glen Chapple, is as eccentric as a saint’s sock drawer. Nonetheless, even on a day when Northamptonshire had one of their best days of the Championship season, it should be noted that at 2.10 p.m. this afternoon, Jack Morley and Tom Hartley were bowling in tandem.
Lancashire selecting two spinners for a first-class game is unusual enough, but no one can recall the last time two twisters were operating together half an hour after lunch on the first day, certainly not at Old Trafford. That it should have been so was a credit to the quality of a Test match wicket that, if anything, was likely to benefit the twirlers, but today showed no degeneration on its fifth day of use and no ill-effects from 48 hours under cover. It mostly demonstrated how Lancashire’s star seamers, Tom Bailey and Will Williams, had been controlled by Emilio Gay, a slim opener from Bedford whose traditionally precise strokeplay would make our day unforgettable.
Gay had reached 144 by the time he was dismissed six overs before the end, attempting a tired drive at a ball from the great George Balderson, his fourth first-class century and one run short of his career-best. His languid drives between point and mid-on, combined with solid defense, had also provided some confirmation of a talent that had been hampered by a knee injury at the start of the season and then cursed by the worms of uncertainty that can slither into any cricketer’s head when he wonders if and when the next big innings will arrive.
So the most remarkable characteristic of Gay’s century today is its lack of self-doubt.
So the most amazing aspect of Gay’s century today is that it was devoid of self-doubt. Yes, he was to give one chance to Keaton Jennings at slip off Jack Morley after he’d made 60, but he took boundaries off both the new-ball bowlers and Balderson early in his innings and came into lunch unbeaten on 35, having played with the kind of care that made his colleagues’ dismissals look shameful.
Indeed, Gay had witnessed Ricardo Vasconcelos and Justin Broad succumb to Balderson after failing to execute well-chosen attacking strokes. Northamptonshire were 29 for 2 after catches by Steven Croft at backward point and Morley at midwicket. Sam Whiteman was stumped by Phil Salt off Morley ten overs later when he came down the wicket to a ball that turned inside his drive. That left the visitors on 59 for 3, and we believed a familiar scenario was about to be told to exhausted traveling supporters.
Instead, Gay was joined by his skipper, Luke Procter, who used to work in these parts and has frequently reminded his old muckers of a quality they likely overestimated.
True, Procter’s crouched stance at the wicket reminds me of the ancient Private Godfrey in “The Test,” a cricket-themed episode of Dad’s Army, and, of course, Northamptonshire’s 35-year-old skipper is becoming a veteran himself. However, when his moons align, he remains a formidable cricketer, coming down the wicket to spinners and changing himself from an arthritic grandpa into a model of orthodoxy.
Perhaps more importantly, he provided Gay with the kind of encouragement the 23-year-old needed as he approached the century he would finally dedicate to his recently deceased and much-loved Uncle Gladstone. By the time Procter was placed on the back foot for 75 by Will Williams, whose aggression and economy have been one of the highlights of a Lancashire season that has not been wowed in triumph, the pair had put on 207.
Nonetheless, aspects of Gay and Procter’s accomplishments are unlikely to have sparked street parties in Wellingborough or Brackley. Northamptonshire’s third century stand of the season, for example, and the pair’s performance in batting through from lunch to tea earned the county its first wicketless session since May 2022. Meanwhile, Jennings’ bowlers can reflect on allowing Northamptonshire to secure only their second and third batting bonus points of the season. However, one more venerable and unquestionably more honorable monument was attained. Gay and Procter’s 207-run stand against Lancashire is their county’s greatest for the fourth wicket, surpassing Mushtaq Mohammed and Jim Watts’ unbroken 158 at Liverpool in 1972.
But if it was a bad day for Lancashire’s players, it was even worse for the county club, or “Lancashire cricket,” as some administrators call it. This morning, all gates near the Metro station on Brian Statham Way were locked, parking was limited, and non-members were required to sit square of the wicket, which led to a group of magnificently stubborn souls invading A Stand and letting the devil have the consequences.
For the second time this season, Lancashire’s arrangements for a first-class match at Emirates Old Trafford were arranged with the Operations Team thinking about what they could get away with rather than what supporters may reasonably require. An Ashes Test is a prized honor west of the Pennines, but if the result is not caring about the faithful locals who turn up during fat and lean years, devoted Lancastrians should be pleased that Australia will not play here again until 2031.
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