Lancashire end long wait for title
The wait is finally over for Lancashire, who were crowned LV= County Champions today for the first time in 77 years after beating Somerset in a climax to the season every bit as thrilling as it was memorable.
Having spent much of the last four days as underdogs for a title that appeared to be heading to Warwickshire, they completed a stunning run-chase to snatch the trophy away at the last possible moment.
Warwickshire’s failure to break through Hampshire’s batting today – and the ensuing draw – meant Lancashire’s eight-wicket win at Taunton gave them an 11-point cushion at the top of the table come the final reckoning.
If that appears a comfortable margin, it was anything but. Like last year, the title was not decided until the last session of a six-month season, when Lancashire overhauled a target of 211 with 4.5 overs of their permitted 34 to spare – less than 15 minutes after Warwickshire and Hampshire shook hands at the Rose Bowl.
While Peter Trego did as much as anyone to deny Lancashire their moment of glory with a superb 120 that stretched Somerset’s second innings to 310, Stephen Moore and Paul Horton removed any doubts that may have crept into the visitors' dressing room with a wonderfully fluent opening stand of 131 in 17 overs.
They perished in quick succession, leaving Steven Croft and Karl Brown – local lads both – to put the finishing touches to a triumph that will be toasted wholeheartedly across the whole county.
Indeed, with the obvious exception of Warwickshire, and possibly Somerset (no one enjoys seeing the title won on their own turf; just ask Lancashire after Nottinghamshire’s triumph at Old Trafford 12 months ago), cricket supporters the length and breadth of the country can celebrate another exhilirating end to a season. County cricket boring? Pah.
This was Lancashire's eighth title. It was also a personal triumph for Glen Chapple, their skipper and stalwart, who has been a runner-up five times in the last 13 years.
If Chapple expected Lancashire to make easy work of the Somerset tail after he trapped nightwatchman Steve Kirby in front and located Craig Meschede’s outside edge within 45 minutes of the hosts resuming on 105 for five this morning, he was made to think again by a spirited recovery spearheaded by Trego.
He batted with the poise and application that has been sorely missing during a championship campaign yielding just three half-centuries; a straight six off Simon Kerrigan was the exception rather than the norm.
Alfonso Thomas and Murali Kartik played important supporting roles, the former spending an hour and a quarter over his 18 as he and Trego added 75 for the eighth wicket.
Thomas was well held by Tom Smith at short-leg off Simon Kerrigan, to the the last ball before lunch, after which Kartik, who made 65 not out, accompanied Trego in a ninth-wicket stand of 95 that threatened to put a different complexion on the most unpredictable of title races.
They were finally parted by Kerrigan, who had Trego caught off bat and pad as he pushed forward. He had faced 217 balls and struck nine fours in addition to that six during almost four hours at the crease.
Few expected Gemaal Hussain to last long, but the manner in which he fell – run out by Gary Keedy from cover point, the first direct hit of his 17-year career – made Lancashire’s joy all the greater.
Moore and Horton sprinted off the field to get padded up, and proceeded to bat with similar urgency as Lancashire, no doubt aware of Warwickshire’s travails 100 miles east, sensed their moment.
Horton cut Thomas over point for six. Moore lifted the same bowler almost into the press box. Each boundary was cheered with greater gusto by the Lancashire fans who had made what appeared to be a wasted journey south for most of this week.
The openers, both of whom passed 1,000 championship runs for the season today, ran with the utmost urgency, although they were abetted by overly defensive fields from a Somerset side still harbouring resentment - however misplaced - towards Lancashire for their part in allowing Nottinghamshire to pip them to the title last season.
Horton and Moore perished in the space of three deliveries, Horton lbw for 55 trying to work Meschede to leg and Moore, whose 71 spanned just 55 balls, caught at fine-leg via a top-edged hook off Trego.
Croft and Brown steadied any Lancastrian nerves by adding 78 runs, the last of which came when Croft steered Meschede to point.
The most trotted-out statistic in championship cricket had been banished.