Rob Jones, Luke Wood offer bright glimpses of future on opposing sides

Lancashire29 for 1 trail Northamptonshire 230 (Wood 66, Gleeson 5-63, Onions 4-45) by 201 runs

There was the unmistakable smack of modernity about the cricket at Old Trafford on the first day of this game – yet there was also a pleasing air of timelessness. For all that Northamptonshire’s side contained two loan signings and Lancashire’s its third Australian debutant of the season, the cosmopolitan make-up of the teams could not quite silence echoes from say, the 1960s, when the first-class season comprised nothing more than a knockout competition and the three-day County Championship.

Though so much has changed, today’s county professionals still know what their predecessors faced. Both these teams have over two months of red-ball games ahead of them and whatever the transient gaiety of the Blast might yield, even white-ball specialists like Luke Wright insist that it is upon championship performances that most cricketers are still judged.

So Richard Gleeson will be a contented man this Tuesday evening. Injured at the start of the season and left out of Lancashire’s side for the Royal London Cup, Gleeson made good use of a lively first-day pitch to take 5 for 63 against the county to whom he owes so much for helping him revive his career. By sticking to a tight line, he justified Dane Vilas’s decision to bat first, a choice whose merit was not lessened by the dismissal five overs before the close of Haseeb Hameed, caught behind for 7 when he pushed forward to a good ball from Ben Sanderson.

That wicket was a setback for Lancashire but it hardly diminished the achievement of their quartet of seamers in dismissing Northamptonshire for 230 on a wicket which, if true to form, should get better. Despite a fine fifty by Luke Wood and a typically determined 48 from Luke Procter on a ground he knows well, Alex Wakely’s batsmen had been restricted by Lancashire’s four pace bowlers operating in impressive harness. At the day’s end Gleeson correctly pointed out that both Tom Bailey and Saqib Mahmood had done all that could be asked yet it was he and Graham Onions who had taken nine of the wickets.

Yet to sharpen that distinction even further it was Gleeson who dismissed four of the top five in Northamptonshire’s order after the game had begun in what some may now label the traditional fashion with a tossed coin. Surprisingly to some, Lancashire asked Northants to bat, which is logically what the visitors wanted to do, but the first session neither justified nor mocked Vilas’s tactic. The accumulation of 80 runs was balanced by the dismissals of both Ricardo Vasconcelos and Wakely, both of whom were caught behind by Lancashire’s wicketkeeper-captain off Gleeson.

Northamptonshire’s problems were compounded when Rob Newton went down with a groin problem – a beguiling euphemism covering a multitude of agonies – and required a runner for the rest of his innings. Having displayed chivalry a few moments earlier – more of that later – Vasconcelos now added selflessness to his virtues by agreeing to do the job.

That problem, though, was minor when set beside the disasters that befell the visitors in the first hour after lunch. On the resumption Blackpool-born Gleeson returned to the attack and removed both Newton for 32 and Rob Keogh for 3, both courtesy of leg-before decisions. That left the visitors on 101 for 4 but worse was to follow in the next over when Rob Jones dived to take a superb gully catch off Bailey and send Josh Cobb on his way on his way for nought. Onions may then have been fortunate to get a leg-before decision against Temba Bavuma but the South African debutant’s dismissal for 39 left his side on 119 for 6.

Almost all the rest of the session, however, was dominated by a shrewd partnership between Procter, who worked the ball around well, and the Nottinghamshire loanee, Wood who cut the Lancashire bowlers with impressive ease whenever they strayed. Just before the close of an absorbing session Procter was caught at slip by Keaton Jennings for 48 when driving at Gleeson, thus giving the bowler his maiden five-wicket haul for Lancashire in what was his first game of the season and also his home debut. That wicket ended Procter’s useful 70-run stand for the seventh wicket with Wood and it was also the prelude to Onions taking the last three wickets in the hour after tea.

Wood perhaps deserves more than to be sent on loan so frequently yet Worcestershire and Northamptonshire’s keenness to take him reflects well on his professionalism. He was eventually out for 66 when Bailey got under a mighty hook at long leg and dived to take an excellent catch.

That piece of athleticism and judgement was rightly applauded yet maybe the best moment of the day – and one which recalled the game’s ethos – had occurred five hours earlier when Vasconcelos needed only Vilas’ assurance that a very low catch off Gleeson had carried before making his way back to the pavilion. It rather recalled the time in another fixture between these sides when Ken Higgs was enraged by David Steele’s failure to walk after what the bowler considered an obvious edge.

Those were the days when Steele and Higgs caught the same train to Old Trafford for such games from their homes in the Potteries. But that evening, when he saw the Northamptonshire batsman waiting on the platform, Higgs spurned even the possibility of travelling in the next carriage to someone he believed guilty of sharp practice; instead, he plonked his vast arse on a seat in Piccadilly station and awaited the next departure to Stoke.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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