Ian Folley, a Lancashire slow left-arm, was discussing spin bowling in County Championship matches one winter in the late 1980s.
It was one of several moments in the county’s history when the squad came close to capturing the championship but never did. “You want to know about pressure?” Folley asked.
“You arrive at a track and realize that if it’s a spinning track, everyone is looking at me and Simmo [Jack Simmons] to win the game,” he explained. “That’s a lot of pressure.”
Jack Morley and Tom Hartley are learning what Folley talked about nearly 40 years later. It is a Friday in late July 2023, and they are attempting to bowl out Northamptonshire on a pitch that has seen 491.1 overs bowled on it seven days before the start of the current innings.
Dark craters produced by bowlers’ footmarks may be seen outside a left-hander’s off stump – and Northamptonshire has five left-handers in their top six. In reality, the Emirates Old Trafford Test match surface severely needs renovation and a winter rest.
Therefore, Morley, 23, and Hartley, 25, are expected to take wickets. County cricket is said to be soft…
They did not make it, partly because their opponents’ children showed that they were also learning a thing or two about pressure. Despite allowing 202 runs, Northamptonshire’s cricketers, most notably Emilio Gay and Luke Procter, Sam Whiteman, and James Sales, fought as if their First Division existence depended on it and finished with five wickets intact and a 12-run advantage.
The draw has no effect on either side’s place at the table. Procter’s club is still at the bottom of the standings and will need at least a pair of wins in September to rectify that.
Lancashire remains eighth, which disappoints everyone at the club.
Even still, what we saw on the ground that was hosting an Ashes match just a week ago was intriguing, not least because we watched a group of cricketers gradually coming to terms with their disciplines and skills.
Not only Lancashire’s spinners, of you but also Northamptonshire’s Gay, who followed his century in the first innings with a Verdun-esque 61 in the second, capping off a three-hour vigil that ended only when he came down the track to Hartley and edged a catch to Keaton Jennings at slip.
Gay’s wicket was the third to fall. Lancastrian hopes were raised before lunch, first when Ricardo Vasconcelos was leg before to a Tom Bailey ball that jagged back and bounced like a crumpet on Lino, and then when the right-handed Justin Broad was caught at slip by Jennings off a Morley beauty that turned sharply and took the edge.
That wicket, however, ushered in a 96-run stand between Gay and Whiteman, which squeezed 39 overs out of the day and moved Northamptonshire a fair way closer to a draw, which says a lot about their fortitude in a difficult summer.
Nonetheless, when Gay was winkled out, the draw was nowhere from a done deal, and even less so when Whiteman inside-edged a catch off Hartley to George Bell at short leg, who gripped the ball with his right hand and scampered away like a cat with the cream.
However, in the truest sense, Procter is a warrior, which was evident when he led Lancashire and is no less prominent now that he leads Northamptonshire.
Five overs after tea, he lost Saif Zaib lbw while playing no shot to Luke Wells, but Sales joined his skipper and kept him company for the next 25 overs.
Moreover, it says a lot about Sales’ unflappability that Lancashire did not appear like they were going to take a wicket in the last hour of the game.
Much to the delight of the cricketers on both sides over the previous four days, a match that would appear a touch monotonous to someone simply checking the scorecard provided so much quiet satisfaction to anyone who chose to become engaged in its ebbs and flows.