Bowlers Glen Chapple and Gary Keedy may have completed Lancashire’s morale-boosting County Championship victory against Sussex at Aigburth – making it three consecutive springs since the arrival of Peter Moores as coach that the county has opened up with a win.
But given the chronic lack of runs from the top order that has undermined their first-class performances for several seasons, it was the commanding total of 472, and especially a maiden Championship century from Karl Brown, that provided the greatest cause for satisfaction and quiet optimism.
This time last week, there were some doubts over whether Brown would even be given first crack in the problem No.3 position, with an alternative theory that the Cyprus-qualified South African Andrea Agathangelou may instead come in after Paul Horton and Stephen Moore.
But a half-century in the three-day game against a refreshingly competitive Oxford University team confirmed Brown’s readiness for a chance he has been working towards for several years now – and the 22-year-old right-hander from Bolton capitalised with the first century by a Lancashire batsman in the opening Championship game of the season since Luke Sutton hit 111 against Warwickshire at Edgbaston in 2007.
In yet another example of how thin the margins can be between success and failure, the Sussex coach Mark Robinson pointed to the life Brown had been given before scoring as a crucial turning point in the match. “The stand between Brown and Mark Chilton was the vital part of the game,” he said.
Moores agreed. “They went in when it was quite tight, and showed good composure. Monty Panesar bowled really well for Sussex and I thought we played him just as well. Browny played some shots of real quality.
“Three is a big spot, so for him to play like that is a big difference for us. The challenge for him now is to use that as a foundation and a launching pad.”
Brown, a former England under-19s representative, had only added eight more first-class appearances after making his debut back in 2006, with a top score of 40 against Kent at the same Aigburth ground in 2008.
But his watchful knock, aided considerably by Chilton’s experienced support, set the platform for the stroke-playing lower middle order of Steven Croft, Tom Smith and Gareth Cross to add further half-centuries – the first time that Lancashire’s Nos 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 have each passed 50, and apparently only the fifth time it has ever happened in the Championship.
“It was a proper team performance,” added Moores, who was happy to allow Chapple’s figures – nine for 117 in a match in which he passed 750 first-class wickets for Lancashire – to speak for themselves.
Keedy exploited a turning, sub-continental style Aigburth pitch skilfully to begin his 17th season at Lancashire with a five-wicket haul, and Oliver Newby did more than enough to justify his selection as third seamer behind Chapple and Sajid Mahmood, despite taking only one wicket.
With Farveez Maharoof now safely in Manchester after securing the necessary documentation, and Kyle Hogg expected to be fit again after being ruled out of the opener with a slight thigh strain, Moores could have some tricky selection decisions ahead of the return to Aigburth for a game against highly-fancied Somerset, starting on April 20.
Lancashire miss out on the second round of Championship fixtures that begin on April 14, but it would be a major surprise if they do not stick with an unchanged team when Somerset visit Liverpool.