Despite the whoops of delight that rose from the Lancashire balcony after 13.2 overs this morning, on the penultimate day of the 2014 season, the winner of this gripping relegation decider may not be known until it has run its full distance.
Middlesex, who need only to draw, have a lead of 114 with six wickets in hand after Sam Robson hit 75, requiring Lancashire, who must win, not only to take those wickets but to do so quickly enough to give themselves a chance of chasing down a target. Middlesex, therefore, are favourites.
Then again, Lancashire would be down already but for the drama of the first hour. They needed to score 41 runs and lose no more than two wickets to clinch a third batting point and deny Middlesex a third for bowling, giving them a 6-3 lead on bonus points - added to which, 16 points for a win would secure their survival.
Amid almost unbearable tension, they did it. The two wickets fell, both leg before to seamer Tim Murtagh - Luke Procter for 42 and then Simon Kerrigan. It left Lancashire still 29 short of the 300 runs they needed, with 48 balls left.
At one end was Glen Chapple, the captain, in his 40th year, his 310th first-class match. At the other, Tom Bailey, aged 23, born one year before Chapple’s first-class debut, in his fourth match.
The rookie, who somehow had three quarters of the strike, mainly blocked; Chapple, batting with a broken finger, nudged and nurdled.
With four overs left they needed 11 but then Murtagh bowled a maiden to Bailey and Toby Roland-Jones beat Chapple’s bat three times in a row as the pressure began to mount. The last over arrived with seven needed and suddenly Chapple opened his shoulders to Roland-Jones, connecting so sweetly the ball not only cleared a deep set field but the rope as well.
“It was going to need something like that and I just thought ‘sod it’ really,” Chapple said afterwards.
Chapple steered the next ball past point; they ran three and Chapple declared. Still in the game, their team-mates could not contain their relief.
Elsewhere, Hampshire’s 291-run victory over Glamorgan enabled them to pip already promoted Worcestershire to the Second Division title and spelt heartbreak for Essex, who thrashed Worcestershire by an innings and 92 runs but finished only third.
Leicestershire completed a second season without a win, the first county to do so since Northamptonshire in the 1930s. They were beaten by Derbyshire by a county record margin of 408 runs.Reuse content