Mullaney’s declaration challenged Vilas’s batsmen to score 444 in a little over four sessions
Lancashire168 and 115 for 1 (Wells 57*, Balderson 45*) need 329 runs vs Nottinghamshire 272 and 339 for 8 dec (Moores 97, James 91, Bailey 3-84)
As a consequence, Steven Mullaney’s declaration challenged Dane Vilas’s batsmen to score 444 in a little over four sessions. It would be Lancashire’s second-highest fourth-innings total in their history after their gloriously doomed 464 at The Oval in 2007 and it would also be the ninth-highest fourth-innings score ever made to win a County Championship game. Supporters who believe they will manage it have been placed in the care of kind friends.
No doubt Vilas is in bullish mood. One can imagine Lancashire’s top order telling each other they will bat normally and see where they are an hour before tea on the fourth afternoon. The truth, one suspects, is that the visitors would accept a draw and the eight points that would keep them well in contention to win the title. It looks as though the slow left-armer, Liam Patterson-White, will have a lot of work to do tomorrow and that the second new ball will be significant on a pitch that is easing. But scoring 444 to win a game represents a summit of which few current players have any knowledge.
Then the cries of Mullaney’s fielders as they crowded Balderson in the closing overs of the day were more an attempt to unsettle the batsman than a genuine reflection of threat. But the 20-year-old has already seen most of that before and he batted with gentle composure. All the same, while a close of play score reading 115 for 1 represents a fine platform, it is open to grave doubt whether it is a platform for victory.
Visiting supporters, of course, will simply be grateful that their cricket ended rather better than it began. The first hour of play was remarkable in that 16 overs were bowled but it was notable in that James and Moores scored 47 runs, as the Nottinghamshire pair made it clear they intended to carry the attack to Tom Bailey and Danny Lamb. This was in clear relief to the tempo of the cricket on Monday evening and it shifted the balance of the match. The expectation of Lancashire’s bowlers gave way to mere hope and their batsmen watched in lonely trepidation as the home side’s lead grew.
At lunch Nottinghamshire’s advantage was 334, a number with 91-year-old Bradmanesque echoes. James had reached his fifty off 149 balls and Moores off 62 balls fewer, a reflection of the younger man’s self-denial on Monday evening, when batting was tougher and Lancashire probably thought they would be chasing a far more manageable target.
Nottinghamshire batted on deep into an afternoon session in which they hoped to take energy out of Lancastrian legs and steel out of Lancastrian minds. Forty minutes after lunch, though, Moores swung Wells straight to Steven Croft at deep midwicket and thus fell three short of his third first-class century. Instead of reaching the landmark with three nousy pushes into the many gaps he had chosen to get there in the grand manner only to depart in the not-so-grand fashion.
At first James approached his own landmark differently. A first century is one of professional cricket’s arrival lounges; people notice it even though there have already been plenty of reasons to pay attention to James’s cricket. However, after getting a little tied down by Wells and Steven Croft’s spinners he tried to lift the leg spinner down the ground only to sky a catch to Josh Bohannon at mid-off and troop off with a career-best 91. Bailey then bowled off spinners and dismissed Brett Hutton – it really was that type of session – before Mullaney declared with a lead of 443. It looked more than enough. Surely it still is?
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visit and other publications