How do you follow 77 years of hurt? By throwing the biggest party of all time, most probably, and Lancashire were well into just such a champagne-soaked knees-up last night after capturing their first outright Championship title since 1934 with a terrific, eight-wicket win over Somerset.
As cries of "Lancy, Lancy" rang around the County Ground, captain Glen Chapple, coach Peter Moores and the entire playing squad embraced in a huddle of delight just inside the boundary. Then, after a few moments in the privacy of the dressing room and to calls of "Bring on the Champions", Chapple and Co stepped forward to receive the trophy from the England and Wales Cricket Board's beaming representative, Mike Gatting.
Lancashire – having looked on several occasions in recent days as though they would fall short of the main prize yet again – had just made relatively easy work of chasing down a potentially difficult target of 211 at almost a run a ball.
Openers Paul Horton and Stephen Moore hit half-centuries to set the platform, then Steven Croft and Karl Brown – lads from Blackpool and Bolton respectively – took their team across the finishing line with 29 deliveries to spare.
But if the final lap was without much incident, the journey has been an amazing one for a team not only without a single star name but also, in recent matches, making do without an overseas player. "Nobody gave us a chance at the start of the year," said Moores. "To come out of this as winners is fantastic for everyone at the club and all the supporters."
Especially satisfying for Moores, one imagines, although yet again he refused to hark back to the dark days of 2008 when he lost his job as England coach following a Kevin Pietersen-led insurrection. "It has been a magical season," he said – and left it at that.
Lancashire had finished as runners-up five times in the previous 13 years – and when they needed 55 overs yesterday to take Somerset's last three wickets, it looked as though that statistic might be updated to six in 14. A 10th win of the season was not to be denied them, though, and the size of their achievement should not be under-estimated. Where great players such as Clive Lloyd, Wasim Akram, Brian Statham, Mike Atherton and Andrew Flintoff failed over the years, the likes of Chapple, Gary Keedy, Kyle Hogg and Tom Smith have succeeded. No wonder, then, that one veteran Lancashire fan looked Moores in the eye last night and said: "Thank you – I've waited all my life for this."
No-one, though, deserves more praise than the lion-hearted Chapple. With his torn hamstring freshly strapped and a few more pain-killing pills swiftly popped, the 37-year-old not only led the visitors on to the field yesterday morning but also struck two quick blows to leave Somerset seven down and only 30 runs ahead.
So what could possibly go wrong? And how many times might that question have been asked over the last eight decades as one title after another slipped through Lancastrian fingers?
This time, Peter Trego, Alfonso Thomas and, most unlikely of all, Murali Kartik, combined to ensure that a title race that has had more twists than a corkscrew headed off in yet another unexpected direction.
Trego and Thomas, looking as though they could play pace and spin alike with a stick of rhubarb, added 75 runs and were just one delivery away from seeing out the morning session when junior left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan – the youngster who took nine for 51 to bowl the Red Rose to a vital victory over Hampshire last week – had Thomas snapped up at short leg. Somerset, though, were not ready to throw in the towel. Trego went on to complete his first century of the season, and his partnership with Kartik, who played for Lancashire when they were runners-up in 2006, grew to 95.
This was getting really serious, and any neutral only needed to glance at the strain on every Lancashire face to appreciate that domestic cricket's most coveted prize was in danger of being snatched away yet again.
Wonderfully for the visitors, though, their two spinners had a trick apiece left in the locker. First, Kerrigan persuaded Trego to loop a simple chance to short leg via bat and pad and then, with the point of no return now clearly in view, 36-year-old Keedy swooped at square cover. He not only picked up cleanly but also threw down the non-striker's stumps to run out last man Gemaal Hussain.
Keedy, whose 61 wickets have contributed hugely to this summer of triumph, was mobbed by his-team-mates and cheered off the field by Lancashire's beaming supporters.
There was still a job to be done. But this time Lancy were not to be denied.
1934 and all that...
* Lancashire's win sealed their first outright County Championship title since 1934 (they shared the title with Surrey in 1950). Since then they have finished second on eight occasions:
(winners in bold)
* The last time Lancashire were sole county champions, George V was on the throne and James Ramsey McDonald (Labour party) was Prime Minister of an all-party national government, in other words, a coalition
Also in 1934:
* South Africa had just won independence from Great Britain.
* The average man worked a 50-hour week for £1, 11 shillings and 5 pence.
* As with this year, Manchester City won the FA Cup.
Research: James Charlton
Down to the wire on a dramatic day
11.14: Early breakthrough Lancs Glen Chapple takes his second wicket of the day, leaving Lancashire needing just three more Somerset wickets.
13.43: Hants century v Warks Michael Carberry scores a single to chalk-up his hundred for Hampshire, who now lead Warwickshire by 27 runs.
14.41: Somerset 310 all out v Lancs Lancashire finally dismiss Somerset but Peter Trego's ton may prove costly. Lancs need to chase down 211 in 30 overs.
14.58: Hants 255-5 v Warks Warwickshire edge closer to the title with two quick wickets. They now trail Hampshire by 86 runs.
16.06: Fast start Lancs 90-0 Stephen Moore drives straight over the bowler's head to reach his half-century. Lancs have raced to 90, chasing 211.
17.00: Match drawn Warks Despite a late rally, the captains shake hands as the Warwickshire players commiserate in the centre. Lancs need just 15.
17.13: It's all over Lancs victorious Steven Croft cracks through point for four to hand Lancashire the title and launch wild celebrations.Reuse content