Lancashire 164 for 0 (Wells 99*, Jennings 61*) trail Somerset446 (Goldsworthy 130, Rew 70 van der Merwe 55) by 282 runs

W H Auden’s “On This Island” has often been quoted yet familiarity has not diminished its power. The poem’s best-known line is its first: “Look, stranger, at this island now”, the gentle imperative suggesting we will never truly know even those places we might call home. And members of Southport and Birkdale Cricket Club, on whose ground Lancashire are playing Somerset, might find particular resonance in Auden’s poem this week. The patch of land they know so well and love so much is suddenly ringed with vans, hoardings and spectators, many of the latter from the West Country. It is a centre of many attentions. So as Luke Wells and Keaton Jennings bit a huge chunk out of Somerset’s 448 and milky sunlight pierced irresolute cloud this afternoon, the workers looked proudly from their hundred tasks and suddenly noticed their home was different.

For the vast majority of the cricketers, of course, even those from Lancashire, this is an unfamiliar ground but one they will call home for all of four summer days in a season that stretches from spring to autumn. The pleasant thing, however, is that the visitors and their supporters seem to be enjoying themselves, even if Peter Siddle’s bowlers have some very hard pounding ahead of them tomorrow.

Somerset’s pleasure was certainly evident in the first half of the day as Siddle’s lower order, emboldened by their confidence in the pitch, batted enterprisingly to add 149 runs in just less than 40 overs. Lewis Gregory’s cover-drive off Will Williams got the morning off to a fine start but he was soon caught by Jack Morley at long leg off the same bowler for 42. Having taken 22 balls to score his first run of the day, Lewis Goldsworthy, Monday’s centurion, hit four boundaries in quick succession before nicking George Balderson’s second ball of the day to Dane Vilas behind the stumps. Dismissed but triumphant, and with 130 runs against his name, Goldsworthy received a standing ovation, something he acknowledged. In some ways, it was the best moment of the day.
Then we returned to the tough business of professional cricket and it soon became clear that Somerset’s tail were not ready to fold up their tents and start bowling. Jack Brooks, who once made a century against Lancashire in his Yorkshire days, made 27 but the serious damage was done by Roelof van der Merwe, who whacked his sixth ball from Williams over the rope and slogged Morley for a couple more sixes in his 69-ball 55 before Luke Wood bowled him to end the innings.

A total of 448 daunted no one but the naive. This pitch has been an absolute credit to the head groundsman, Colin Maxwell, and this is a quick-scoring ground, one that is well-known for its shortish straight boundaries and its merciless outfield in hot weather. In the break between innings the groundstaff went out to tend the pitch while the spectators were three deep at the bar. Other volunteers sold programmes and others again made sure the glass and litter collecting operations were in order.

And it’s on afternoons like these that people in these parts miss Neil McQuaid. Mind you, even when county matches were taking place, you were unlikely to see Neil; he’d probably be organising things up at the car park or doing another vital job for which no one else had volunteered. In one respect this was strange, because Neil was a former chairman and, until his death, the president of the club, and he could have spent his time in the hospitality tent. In another respect, though, his behaviour was utterly in character.

After defying death for well over a decade, Neil succumbed to cancer late last summer and on a bleak afternoon last December we buried his ashes just beyond the boundary on the railway side of the ground. Hockey was probably his main sport but he pitched in wherever it was needed and on a bench from which a few spectators watched Wells and Jennings begin Lancashire’s reply there is a plaque. It reads: “Neil McQuaid: A True Gentleman. Happy Days Shared With His S&B Ladies Cricket Team. Remembered Always. If English cricket is about Ben Stokes and Bazball and the Vitality Blast – and it absolutely is – it’s also about the many people like Neil, the folk you don’t notice yet miss like hell. Should we forget that, it will be time to roll up the circus for good.

For two more days, though, the caravans are resting in Southport and one imagines Lancashire’s batsmen are looking forward to tomorrow. Wells and Jennings batted with increasing ease for 54 overs and their unbroken 164-run stand may be only the prelude to further consumption. To judge from van der Merwe’s exclamations you might think there were two near things every over but the only clear chance fell to Goldsworthy who dropped a tough, diving catch off Brooks’ bowling when Jennings was 30. Otherwise the Lancashire openers encountered few alarms until the final over, when Jennings nearly ran himself out when trying to give the bowling to Wells, who needed one run for his century. Having been sent back and only just making it, the former Durham batsman decided to sod that for a game of soldiers and blocked the rest of the over.

And so ended another fine day at this much-beloved outground. Two miles away the Orange Order had celebrated July 12, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, in a different, rather more riotous, fashion. Strangers visiting Southport might have looked on this corner of the island and marvelled that one town could host such contrasting occasions. Tomorrow it should be bats rather than batons that are twirling in celebration, although Somerset’s bowlers will want to say something about that.