Second day: Lancashire trail Worcestershire by 63 runs with nine second innings wickets standing.

He's 39 next month and long ago stopped counting hundreds, but there was still a refreshing enthusiasm about Graeme Hick's celebration of his latest century.

In effortlessly swatting Muttiah Muralitharan for a straight six back over the bowler's head, Hick eased ahead of the legendary W G Grace into outright 10th place in the famed hall of first-class centurions.

Ton No 127 was one of his more stunning efforts, 176 hit off just 231 balls out of a total of 306 in which the next-highest scorer made 22. On the way, he hit 20 fours and seven sixes.

It might have been a less happy ending had Lancashire skipper Mark Chilton not spilled him at third slip on 15 the previous evening. But Hick clearly enjoyed this one, more so than most of the 97 hundreds he has clubbed for Worcestershire.

"I don't know how many I've got left so it maybe gives me greater pleasure to score centuries now than at any stage," he said.

"But, with all due respect to the great batsmen that have gone before, landmarks don't really bother me. It doesn't matter whether I get 70 or 100 as long as I'm scoring runs for Worcestershire."

Hick will be 40 by the time his existing contract with Worcestershire runs out at the end of next season. But, after his best Championship season in 15 years last summer, and having started this season in fine form with a pre-season century at Chelmsford and 80 at Derby a fortnight ago, age is clearly not withering his talents.

"I've always enjoyed my cricket," he said. "If I finish this season the way I felt at the end of last summer, I'll carry on playing."

In an Ashes summer, it is only to be expected that there should be an almost ceaseless supply of journalists recording the growing failures of England's top batting contenders elsewhere in the country. But, while Hick's comparatively disappointing Test career ended more than four years ago, this was a well-timed way of reminding the selectors where the country's top run-maker still resides.

It was almost exactly 24 hours on from the much-touted Andrew Flintoff's fifth-ball duck for Lancashire when Hick reached three figures again.

He had only just survived a nervy moment in the 90s when he carved Sajid Mah-mood to third man, only for the ball to fly just over the head of the waiting fielder and over the rope. But his fifth six of the innings to reach that ton, straight back over Murali's head, was a majestic shot.

All of which was in contrast to the way the day had started for the home side. Stephen Peters was caught behind in only the fourth over, followed next ball by Ben Smith who got in a spin against Murali and offered the Sri Lankan trickster a return catch.

Skipper Vikram Solanki survived the hat-trick ball but lasted not much longer before edging to second slip; Gareth Batty fell leg before to Murali and Jamie Pipe drove one low to mid-off. But, from 130 for six, the tail wagged well enough for Hick to carry on accumulating.

Chaminda Vaas helped put on 64 for the seventh wicket and Kabir Ali dominated a 33-run stand for the eighth, as did Matt Mason for the ninth when he came in to smack four boundaries on the resumption after tea.

When James Anderson rearranged Mason's stumps even more effectively than Steve Harmison had managed in the middle of his hat-trick up at the Riverside last week, that ought to have been it. But being on the wrong end of an unintentional Anderson beamer brought out the best in David Wigley

The defiant young York-shireman kept Hick company long enough for the great man to be dropped again by a juggling Chilton at long-off on 140. And, after Dominic Cork failed in a bid to run 40 yards to catch him on 173 just three runs later, Hick's solo vigil was over when he finally holed out to Murali at mid off.

In reply, poor Chilton's misery was complete when Mason bowled him through the gate in the third over. But Iain Sutcliffe and Mal Loye negotiated the remaining 14 overs without alarm.