Lancashire skipper Glen Chapple and his fellow bowler Luke Procter threw their club a lifeline yesterday in the battle to avoid relegation from the top division of the County Championship.
The duo both claimed four wickets as Middlesex were dismissed for 214 in bowler-friendly conditions on the opening day of the final match of the season at Old Trafford.
However, Lancashire’s task of avoiding the drop was made slightly more difficult following late resistance from visitors. A last-wicket stand of 34 between Middlesex’s James Harris and Ravi Patel gained a batting bonus point for Middlesex.
Lancashire need to make up a 19-point deficit if they are to overtake Chris Roger’s men at the bottom of the table, a task made all the harder by that last-wicket partnership.
Middlesex’s total means that Lancashire need to score around 350 in their first innings and then win the game if they are to avoid being demoted to Division Two.
Fortunately for the home side, bad light and rain prevented Middlesex’s bowlers from having any chance to exploit the bowler-friendly conditions on a day when 25 overs were lost to the weather.
Despite the set-back of the last-wicket stand, vice-captain Procter was pleased with his side’s day.
“I think it was a very good day for us,” he said.
“To bowl a side out after you lose the toss is good although it was little bit frustrating that they got beyond 200 because we need to take three more bonus points than Middlesex from this game as well as winning the match. Now we need to get 350.”
Earlier, the out-of-touch Sam Robson was the first to go having accumulated just seven when he edged Chapple to Jos Buttler.
Dawid Malan followed the opener back to the dressing room nine overs later when he nicked Procter to second slip Steven Croft.
Rogers also found it tough going against the Red Rose attack. He was bowled for 33 by a good ball from Procter.
After lunch Denly and Eoin Morgan added 19 runs in a shade more than eight overs before Denly was well caught by Croft at second slip off Chapple for a 74-ball 38.
Morgan and Neil Dexter then defended stoutly for half an hour as the clouds gathered but Lancashire’s bowlers eventually gained further rewards for their accuracy.
Preston’s rising ar Tom Bailey removed Morgan, caught behind for 25, and Procter took the wickets of Dexter and Toby Roland-Jones in successive overs to leave the visitors on 134 for seven when the umpires took the players off for bad light.
Once play resumed, John Simpson and Harris (27no) put on 36 for the eighth wicket and Lancashire were left to regret dropping the latter at slip when he had made only four.
Chapple eventually had Simpson lbw for 23 before Tim Murtagh was caught behind for nine, with the Lancashire captain finishing the innings with four for 55 and Procter taking four for 50.