Steven Croft shines with unbeaten century as Lancashire hold upper hand

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Saqib Mahmood helps reduce Northants to 59 for three, still needing 366 runs on final day

Northamptonshire 177 and 59 for 3 (Vasconcelos 22*, Proctor 15*, Mahmood 2-9) need another 366 runs to beat Lancashire 305 and 296 for 7 declared (Croft 103*)

When this morning’s play began Lancashire had a lead of 188 over Northamptonshire and all their second-innings wickets in hand. By the time the long day closed at 7.20pm they had reduced the visitors to 59 for 3 and a victory target of 425 appeared merely fantastical. A good day for the Red Rose, you might think, and you would be correct. Yet much of their batting had been so careless that it might have been designed to have their head coach, Glen Chapple, emulating Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha and hopping about with a hatchet.

The one player exempted from Chapple’s ire was Steven Croft, whose unbeaten century will have had Lancashire supporters smiling in shared pleasure. Croft’s love for the county of his birth is undoubted. When he pulled Nathan Buck for six to reach his hundred, thereby prompting a declaration, the home dressing room erupted in noisy acclamation. Croft was hugged by Tom Hartley, his batting partner, and he raised his arms towards his team-mates, some of whom may still have been watching Peppa Pig when he first played for Lancashire.

The century had been the product of careful workmanship rather than effortless style. There were pulls to square leg, nudges through the slips and leg glances but only seven fours. The one concession to modernity, albeit Croft has kept his place in Lancashire’s T20 team, was the reverse sweep, which he now plays as easily as Robert Browning once produced rhyming couplets. He could have gone for three early in the morning session had Adam Rossington clung on to a right-handed diving catch but Croft has long been careful to make the most of such opportunities, for he has no clue how many more he might get.

Three years ago he thought he would not get another contract with Lancashire but the coaches opted to give him another season, then one more, then another. There was nothing indulgent about these decisions. Although not the five-furlong favourite he once was, Croft can still do a job anywhere in the field and held on to two slip catches as Northants subsided this evening.

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