What had looked a gentle stroll to victory turned into rather too thrilling a finish for Essex yesterday, who none the less beat Northamptonshire by four wickets to take charge in the race to be promoted from the Second Division.
Kent are already up – they received the trophy yesterday – but Essex are now well placed in second, some three points ahead of their vanquished rivals with a game to go.
Set 242 to win, Essex started well. Alastair Cook did much of the early work, scoring 87 in partnerships with John Maunders (46) and Matthew Walker (39).
When Ryan ten Doeschate was the third man out at 175 Essex were still well placed for victory. At 205 for 6, though, the match was back in the balance and Northamptonshire had Johan van der Wath to thank: he took 5 for 71. An unbeaten partnership of 37 between Graham Napier and 20-year-old Tom Westley saw Essex home, though.
As Essex won, Derbyshire just failed to do likewise. They were unable to break Middlesex's last-wicket partnership at Uxbridge and lie 10 points adrift of Essex, who they play in their final match of the season.
*Andrew Flintoff will help coach the United Arab Emirates national team during his rehabilitation from knee surgery. The 31-year-old's recovery programme is based the Dubai Sports City complex, and he will help with the development of the country's best cricketers.