History beckons for Lancashire
For Paul Horton, it is a chance to make history. For Glen Chapple, it is “just another game of cricket”.
Lancashire’s final match of the season – one upon which their LV= County Championship challenge rests – stirs contrasting emotions among players, fans and supposedly impartial pundits.
They meet Somerset at Taunton tomorrow sitting second in the table, needing to better by three points Warwickshire’s return against Hampshire, while hoping third-placed Durham do not make up the 15-point gap to top spot.
Should all those criteria be met, a first outright title since 1934 will be Lancashire’s, the prospect of which is an obvious – and powerful – motivation for Horton.
“If we won we’ll be remembered as the side that brought the championship back after 77 years – that’s a special thing to be a part of,” the opening batsman predicted.
“When you look back on your career, you want to look back on how many trophies you’ve won. Individual things are just numbers.
“If you don’t play for England then you want to win trophies for your county, so that’s what we’re trying to do – to become part of history.”
While Chapple, the Lancashire captain, claims his side have “a great chance” of lifting the trophy that has eluded them for more than three-quarters of a century, his attempts to play down the importance of this week’s game are borne out of the disappointment at finishing runners-up five times in the last 13 years.
“It’s just another game of cricket against a good side,” said the man who has played 264 matches in a first-class career that began at Old Trafford in 1992.
“We'll definitely be up for it and we just need to make sure we carry on with the things we've done all season.
“We're not even favourites (to win the title) but we've just got to go and play another good game of cricket. We hope that's enough.
“We’ve won some really tight games this year and that will stand us in good stead.”
None was tighter than the win over Hampshire at Liverpool yesterday, a victory margin of 222 runs disguising the fact that it was sealed with just four minutes to spare.
It was a sensational climax to a pulsating game that saw Hampshire’s last-wicket pair of Neil McKenzie and James Tomlinson survive 21 overs before Simon Kerrigan, the 22-year-old left-arm spinner playing only his third championship game of the season, claimed his ninth wicket.
Chapple did well to keep his emotions in check in the aftermath of one of the most breathless finishes this competition has witnessed, even if he did admit “it would have been gutting” had Lancashire failed to clear the final hurdle.
“The dressing room atmosphere when you win a game like that is unbelievable. People are just sat there thinking ‘that’s amazing’,” he said, before acknowledging the role he has to play in restoring equilibrium ahead of what, for many of the younger members of the team, will be the biggest match of their career.
“We're still in it. You're going into the last game with a chance, and you can't ask for any more than that.
“We've just got to go in and try and win the last game. We've got to believe that if we win we've got a great chance.”
Warwickshire’s advantage, however slender, means victory at the Rose Bowl may render Lancashire’s clash with Somerset irrelevant, but Horton, like Chapple, is simply glad to be in with a shout.
“I don’t think there are many teams in the country still playing for trophies going into the last championship game of the season,” said Horton, who was part of the Lancashire side that missed out on glory in agonising circumstances in the dying moments of the 2007 season when they came within 25 runs of chasing down 489 to beat Surrey and clinch the title. They ultimately finished third.
“It’s a position we’ve only been in a couple of times since I’ve been at the club so it’s great to be a part of.
“It’s what we should be doing as a team of Lancashire players. We’re a big club, we’re a good side and we should be challenging.
“This is what we’re all trying to do and we’re all working for. The hunger is there.”
Lancashire are hoping Steven Croft is fit to play after being hit on the hand while fielding at short-leg, while Somerset, whose faint title ambitions were ended by defeat at Yorkshire this week, are once again expected to be without captain Marcus Trescothick due to an ankle injury.