The day after sealing Lancashire’s unforgettable Roses triumph at Headingley, Gary Keedy was back in Yorkshire. Not to gloat, but to take his kids to Eureka, the National Children’s Museum in Halifax.
Neither Keedy nor his fellow veteran Glen Chapple were required for the Clydesdale Bank 40 game against the Unicorns at Colwyn Bay, Lancashire preferring to give them both a breather ahead of the next match in their Championship odyssey – against Nottinghamshire in Southport.
That was always shaping as one of the highlights of the season, with ticket sales to match, as first-class cricket returns to Trafalgar Road for the first time since 1999. Now the fixture has added interest as Lancashire will be playing their game in hand on the leaders, Durham, knowing that even a draw would lift them to the top of the Championship table.
However recent history would suggest that a draw is highly unlikely. The four Championship matches at the ground in the 1990s each produced a positive result – Lancashire losing three of them. Even the draws in Southport tend to have been lively, such as the 1988 game against Surrey which ended with scores level as Wasim Akram smacked 98 including several sixes on to the train line that runs alongside the ground, after earlier taking a hat-trick.
Other Southport highlights that spring to mind include the famous 1982 game against Warwickshire, which Lancashire won despite conceding a total of 523 for four in the first innings, Alvin Kallicharran and Geoff Humpage each scoring a double century. Graeme Fowler’s response, of a century in each innings batting with a runner, is thought to be unique.
The last game in 1999, also against Warwickshire, was equally memorable, as Muttiah Muralitharan bowled for the first time for Lancashire, rain having ruined his debut against Gloucestershire in Bristol. Murali took seven for 44 in the first innings, seven for 73 in the second, and still finished on the losing side, as Lancashire fell 20 short of a victory target of 285 despite half-centuries from John Crawley and Warren Hegg.
Mark Chilton will be the only survivor from that game involved at Southport this week, Keedy and Chapple having missed out on selection 12 years ago. However the Notts director of cricket Mick Newell will have some first-hand memories of Trafalgar Road, having played in the 1986 fixture between the teams which was another rare Southport draw, despite five wickets for Eddie Hemmings.
The record books also reveal an evocative Lancs-Notts fixture at the ground in 1968, when the visitors won by 68 runs thanks to an unbeaten 77 from Garfield Sobers, and a five-wicket performance from David Halfyard – in the season he made one of the more unlikely cricketing comebacks at the age of 37, four years after he had ended his Kent career as the result of his involvement in a road accident. Halfyard had become an umpire, and was claiming invalidity benefit, when Notts spotted him bowling in the nets earlier that year and persuaded him out of retirement.
Bringing things right up to date, the Championship would now seem to be a three-horse race between Durham, Lancashire and Warwickshire. Notts may be out of the running, but the champions will play a big part in the destiny of the pennant as in addition to this week’s trip to Southport, they also have to face Warwickshire at Edgbaston, and Durham home and away.
Lancashire will also be looking to benefit from having dragged Yorkshire back into relegation danger with their win at Headingley, as the Tykes will now be desperate to take points from their two fixtures against Warwickshire at Edgbaston and Headingley.
One other question is where Lancashire will play their last home fixture, against Hampshire in September. It is scheduled to mark the return of first-class cricket to Old Trafford for the first time on the reorientated square, but there are persistent rumours that it will be switched to an outground – with the possible need to make arrangements for Sky coverage adding a further complication. The three contenders’ remaining fixtures are as follows:
Durham (173 pts) – Notts (h, Aug 2), Hants (h, Aug 10), Notts (a, Aug 22), Sussex (a, Aug 31), Worcs (h, Sep 12).
Lancashire (168 pts) – Notts (h, July 26 – Southport), Warwicks (h, Aug 1 – Liverpool), Worcs (h, Aug 17 – Blackpool), Worcs (a, Aug 31), Hants (h, Sep 7, tbc), Somerset (a, Sep 12).
Warwickshire (160 pts) – Lancs (a, Aug 1), Hants (h, Aug 18), Yorks (a, Aug 23), Yorks (h, Aug 31), Notts (h, Sep 8), Hants (a, Sep 12).