Durham 372 &amp; 69-1 Lancashire 482-8d <i>(match drawn)</i>: Cork in his element but Lancashire foiled

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The Independent Online

It was the sun what done it. Or all the rain that came before that and poured on Manchester. Lancashire were feeling sorry for themselves yesterday as their dreams of the Championship began to move towards the horizon, where it was also probably about to rain.

The mood was discernible all round Old Trafford. The team and their supporters, probably more the latter than the former, feel, nay insist, that their chances of a first outright title since 1934 have been scuppered by the rain.

To anybody prepared to listen, and many more who were not, the statistics were repeated as their penultimate fixture against Durham meandered to an inevitable draw. There were bright spots. Dominic Cork scored the eighth hundred of his career, his first at Old Trafford, and Tom Smith, recruited to the National Academy in Perth and therefore potentially an Ashes participant, made his top score.

Lancashire have lost more than 1,000 overs in their eight drawn matches this summer, thus denying them the opportunity to close the gap on the leaders, Sussex, whom they now trail by eight points. That is almost 10 times more play than Sussex have lost.

The nadir was reached on Friday when the teams trooped off 11 overs before the close because the low September sun was shining too brightly.

Presumably, when Lancashire were winning Championship pennants for fun (five titles between 1926 and 1934), Old Trafford was another version of the Riviera, that era being pre-global warming.

It is difficult not to feel a tinge of sympathy. Lancashire have already been Championship runners-up four times in the eight seasons until 2005 and are still smarting from the most recent occasion, in 2003, when it also rained on their parade, allowing Sussex to romp home. For Sussex to be top again would make Lancashire even more irritated.

Not that it is quite over yet. The final round of matches begin on Wednesday. Lancashire visit Hampshire at the Rose Bowl and Sussex meet Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge. Lancashire probably have the tougher assignment, because Hampshire will claim second place themselves if they win. Knowing Lancashire's luck, it will rain in Southampton and break the thermometer in Nottingham.

Whatever their travails with the climate, the consensus is that Lancashire have played wearily in the second part of the summer. This might be surprising, since it is their contention that they have hardly been able to get on the field, but they have lacked the vibrancy of May and June. They have also been irksomely anxious to sign overseas players, hence the late enlistment of Murali Kartik for two Championship matches.

Sussex have been on top of their game more or less throughout, though another fact mentioned by Lancastrians is that at Aigburth in early June, Lancashire beat Sussex by nine wickets in two days. That merely disguises the fact that Chris Adams has moulded a tough side who are technically proficient, with each member aware what he is supposed to be doing.

With the rain having prevented any play at all on Thursday, Lancashire's eighth draw of the campaign was always probable. Durham, fighting relegation and a general malaise, were not likely to be in the mood for contrivance. They must play fellow relegation contenders Yorkshire in the final fixture with, rather bizarrely, just half a point between the sides.

Lancashire's first and perhaps only target therefore had to be to secure maximum batting bonus points, which was far from a foregone conclusion. With their score on 210 for five, they still had to make another 190 runs to attain the four extra points.

Glen Chapple was soon out to a smart catch at slip by Jimmy Maher which cast a cloud over this equation. Cork, however, is a cricketer made for such an occasion. Striding to the crease with a season's batting average of 14, he played diligently against some innocuous bowling.

The hundred was never much in doubt. Cork leapt in the air and then this son of Staffordshire, who spent the bulk of his career with Derbyshire before joining Lancashire in 2004, kissed the red rose emblem on his helmet. How touching. Lancashire must have been the team of his dreams. What price player loyalty? It led to speculation that Kartik, who has now played four matches for the county over two seasons, must be due a benefit.

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