Fingernails lose out in unpredictable finale

Posted in Domestic Cricket

The wind was so strong at Taunton today that Chris Jones’ cap blew halfway across the square.

There were surely many more inside the County Ground who felt the need to take off their metaphorical hats to Lancashire after they forced their way back into the LV= County Championship race in admirable fashion.

They closed the second day on 247 for three, trailing by 133 after making relatively short work of Somerset’s tail this morning.

It represented a notable shift in fortunes after they conceded 314 for five on the opening day, a performance which, though far from unworthy on an unhelpful surface, was hardly the sort of start they would have wished for in a game that is likely to decide their season.

It also demonstrated the resolve of a side that, to quote Gary Keedy, “aren’t going to lie down”.

Lancashire were as good as Keedy’s word today, claiming the last five wickets in little more than a session – and a truncated one at that.

Paul Horton, Stephen Moore and Karl Brown, all of whom made half-centuries, laid the platform from which Lancashire hope they can mount a victory push – and a last-gasp bid for the title they have not won outright since 1934.

The course of this game, which has changed as much as the weather over two days that have veered between gloriously sunny and miserably wet, with plenty of wind in between, has been mirrored elsewhere in the country.

Lancashire players and supporters will have been chiefly distracted by events at the Rose Bowl, where Warwickshire’s march to 493 all out against Hampshire pointed to an obvious conclusion.

Karl Brown

Karl Brown, who made 60, helps Lancashire move into a promising position against Somerset, maintaining their title interest heading into the final two days of a compelling championship campaign

However, Warwickshire’s tardy progress – and failure to collect more than three batting bonus points – allied to the manner in which Hampshire negotiated 20 less than threatening overs before the close on another true pitch, suggested such predictions were mildly premature.

Durham, who went into the final round of games 12 points behind Lancashire and a further three adrift of Warwickshire, will be many people’s favourites to beat Worcestershire despite boasting a slender lead of 27 with 10 second-innings wickets in hand.

Then again, many of the same pundits would hardly have expected Worcestershire, needing to score 300 to guarantee their safety, slip from 255 for three to 288 all out.

Their collapse means Hampshire could still stay up with victory over Warwickshire, the prospect of which may not be as preposterous as it initially seems should Hampshire bat most of tomorrow, and Lancashire look likely to beat Somerset. Warwickshire would, therefore, have little option but to try and conjure a positive result in an attempt to match Lancashire’s.

Note plentiful use of the word ‘if’, which has been the most popular in the Taunton press box over the last 48 hours. And to think we haven’t even touched on Division Two yet.

There are enough permutations to make your head hurt, and in that sense there can be no greater advert for the County Championship – and the two-division format in particular.

It is nothing short of remarkable that, with just two days of the season remaining, three teams are in with a shout of winning the title; one relegation place is still to be confirmed (Yorkshire took the ignominious honour of being the first side to go down only yesterday); and four (yes, four) counties can still go up, three of which could do so as champions. Middlesex, Northamptonshire, Surrey and Gloucestershire are those with something more than pride to play for.

Great news for the neutrals, yes. Less so for the fingernails of the fans who will be monitoring the scores from games up and down the country.

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