Nottinghamshire emerged from a thrilling day’s cricket with a narrow victory to take an 11-point lead in what is turning into a closely-contested four-horse race for the County Championship.
Somerset are second after denying Northamptonshire in another gripping finale at Wantage Road, with Yorkshire third 16 points behind the leaders with a game in hand, four points in front of Warwickshire, who also have a game in hand and whose win against Durham at Chester-le-Street was their third in four matches.
This was a third win in four for Notts, too, although it could not been closer, last man Harry Gurney coming in with the scores level and rushing through for a single after pushing his first ball from Glenn Chapple into the offside with all the fielders up.
Chasing 170 to win after bowling Lancashire out for 205, what should have been a straightforward task for Nottinghamshire with 53 overs and all of the final day at their disposal was anything but as the Lancashire bowlers kept them under pressure.
Each time it seemed the visitors were gaining the upper hand, they would lose wickets, slipping from 50 for 2 to 53 for 4 as all-rounder Tom Smith dismissed Michael Lumb and James Taylor in the same over, then from 116 for 5 to 119 for 7 as Riki Wessels and Peter Siddle – in his last match for the county – departed just eight balls apart.
Chris Read, the captain, was calmness personified, and when he and Luke Fletcher, a capable No 9, added 44 in 17.2 overs, the winning post was in sight at 163 for 7.
But the drama had not finished. Kabir Ali finally induced an edge from Fletcher, taken at third slip, and Andre Adams, who knows only one way to bat, levelled the scores with two scoring shots, for four and two, only to be caught on the boundary in the same Kabir over.
The batsmen had crossed, which meant it was Gurney, a true rabbit, who had to face Chapple. Heart in mouth, the captain watched from the end but his team-mate, who had bowled beautifully earlier, met the challenge with defiance and the full face of the bat and the job was done.
Lancashire, who had been 55 for 2 overnight, moved to 99 without further loss with Usman Khawaja and Ashwell Prince in charge but Gurney changed the picture with four wickets in the space of 29 balls as Lancashire lurched to 140 for 6. Fletcher then followed up with three in five balls, the innings ending when Stephen Parry – standing in after Simon Kerrigan left to join England’s preparations for the second Test and playing in only his sixth Championship match in six years – drove at Samit Patel to Adams at mid-on.