Lancashire 161 (Tongue 5-63) and 317 for 6 (Vilas 107*, Bohannnon 78*) beat Worcestershire 222 (D’Oliveira 65; Bailey 4-41) and 252 (Parnell 50) by four wickets
Early this morning, before any spectators had arrived, a Lancashire cricketer strolled out to the middle at Trafalgar Road. He assumed his batting stance at the Harrod Drive End, then at the Grosvenor Road. He played a few shots to imaginary balls and, one assumes, contemplated that which he would be called upon to do. His name was Dane Vilas.
Now let us scroll forward some eight hours. Vilas is facing Josh Tongue and there are some two thousand pairs of eyes upon him. He clips the ball crisply to the square leg boundary to reach his third century of the season. The applause drowns out the rumble of a passing train, but even that cacophony is exceeded a few minutes later when Josh Bohannon hits Tongue for consecutive boundaries to seal the four-wicket victory over Worcestershire which administers the kiss of life to Lancashire’s chances of avoiding relegation.
Perhaps just as significantly, the victory gives unbounded joy to most folk in the crowd at Trafalgar Road. They cheer and will not stop. The suited ones cheer in the marquee and men in daft shorts cheer on the popular side. The players in the dug-out cheer and shake hands with anyone they can find, fifty-year-old songs from a great age in Lancashire cricket are resurrected and belted out anew. Few have seen this coming. Vilas finishes on 107 not out while Bohannon, the deuteragonist in the great drama and a Boltonian battler to his marrow, ends unbeaten on 78. The pair have added an unbroken 139 for the seventh wicket and if you had told Lancashire supporters early this morning that their team would be bowled out for that many, they would have grunted an acceptance.
It was impossible, of course. No one had ever chased down 314 to win at Trafalgar Road and the pitch was nipping around. But records are there to be eclipsed and the view that this wicket was a mere club surface on which centuries were impossible was exposed as utter bunkum. It turned out that all you needed was a tight technique and faith in your own ability. So Vilas anchored the innings and gave one difficult chance to slip on 84 while Bohannon stayed true to his pugnacious nature and took the game to Worcestershire. And Worcestershire’s bowlers did not like it up ’em.
In his book On Form Mike Brearley remembered Tony Greig’s first Test century, at Bombay in 1973. “He played calmly, from his own centre,” writes Brearley. Both Vilas and Bohannon played from their own centres. Dear God, they made it look almost easy.
But surely it was impossible. That much had been clear when Lancashire had withered to 63 for 4 inside the first 75 minutes of play. People talked of an early afternoon finish. First to go was Haseeb Hameed who hit three sweet fours, two of them cover-drives, but then came forward a little woodenly to Ed Barnard and edged behind for 14. Two deliveries later Rob Jones attempted a similar stroke with the same result and collected an eight-ball pair. Any lunatic optimism felt by spectators on this blissful morning was then thoroughly doused twenty minutes later when Alex Davies tried to pull a ball but only skied a catch. “Mine” called Ben Cox loudly enough to petrify Formby’s red squirrels: 63 for 4 and some in the corporate hospitality marquee decided to make their early sharpener a large one.
And who could blame them on this last day of meteorological summer? “Gone, gone again, / May, June, July, / And August gone” wrote Edward Thomas in “Blenheim Oranges”. Soon we will be deep in the month when cricketers harvest their year’s work. September also brings other farewells. It was announced on Friday morning that this game would be the last in the 27-year career of Matt Procter, Lancashire’s PA announcer. Ever the loyalist, Procter attempted to destabilise Lancashire’s opponents by announcing that Hameed had been “caught Cox bowled Barnyard” Matt will be missed but the catch wasn’t.
Steven Croft, another faithful servant, began to play himself in. The suited ones retired to the marquee, where they lunched well and either toasted Timothy Taylor or danced the optic tango. By the time they emerged again Croft had driven and cut half a dozen fours through the off side and Lancashire were well past three figures.
All the same, it was surely still impossible so why wouldn’t Vilas be told? Worcestershire’s bowlers remained threatening and their fielders lively. Cox kept wicket with the brim of his sunhat tilted back and looked for all this precious world like an echo from the Golden Age: I Zingari, perhaps, or the Worcestershire Occasionals.
Croft made 36 before he could do nothing with a fine ball from Tongue and edged behind. Jordan Clark made 31 but then lofted the slow left-armer Ben Twohig to Brett D’Oliveira at deep mid-off. Bohannon, bristling with “are you looking me”, strode out to join Vilas. Quite soon he had driven boundaries and the crowd warmed to him. Vilas, untroubled by anyone, continued to bat just as he had visualised early in the morning. Club members, who work for months to make this game a success, realised that dear old Trafalgar Road was singing more tunes of glory.
It is nearly dark on the last day of August. The lights are bright on the tennis courts on the day when Lancashire mounted their highest run chase for 13 years. But the tunes of glory are heard still as out in the middle Dane Vilas plays shadow shots to the bowling of a ghost.