Lancashire go down to defiant Middlesex

Rearguard action by lower order confirms relegation for Chapple’s side as Fraser survives ‘the longest four days of my life’

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The Independent Online

Where briefly there was hope for Lancashire, in the end it was extinguished as Middlesex battled through for the draw they needed to remain in the First Division and thereby deny the home side the victory that would have instead saved them from relegation. 

Having kept themselves alive amid great drama on the third morning, when they would have been down regardless of the result had Glen Chapple’s last-gasp swinging of the bat not claimed an extra bonus point with four balls to spare, Lancashire bowled themselves into a position where they had a real chance, with Middlesex six down and only 134 in front, and 67 overs still to play.

Junaid Khan, the Pakistan Test bowler who they had brought back to aid their survival bid, had shown his worth by dismissing Middlesex’s Eoin Morgan and Neil Dexter in quick succession and Chapple, whose future with Lancashire – captain and fast bowler or head coach? – remains undecided, was running in and giving everything to the cause, as no one doubted he would.

Ultimately, though, it was the Middlesex bowlers who won the battle – with the bat.   Toby Roland-Jones added 34 in an hour and 20 minutes, James Harris a hugely valuable 41 over two hours and a quarter, his partnership with Tim Murtagh, unbeaten on 29, spanning 27 overs and, stretching the lead to an impossible 253 with only 20 overs left. That persuaded Chapple reluctantly to offer his hand in congratulations, his cause lost.

The season ended with the players casting long shadows from the low September sun, although the Manchester weather had still wielded its influence, taking away 14 overs in the morning as a nasty squall of rain swept through.

“It would have been touch and go anyway but it didn’t help,” Chapple said. “After lunch the way Middlesex batted made it look fairly easy. This pitch seemed to be getting easier to bat on.”

Lancashire’s fortunes have swung violently since the joyous heights of 2011, the year they ended a 77-year wait for their eighth outright title. Relegated in 2012, they returned as Second Division champions and are now down again. 

The lack of an overseas player until halfway through this season placed a heavy onus on young batsmen and they only once collected more than three batting bonus points. How much they suffered through losing their coach Peter Moores to England is difficult to quantify.

For Middlesex, the only side to have beaten champions Yorkshire, it has been a scrape they cannot have anticipated at the beginning of June, when they led the table after winning four of their first six matches. Since then, however, even with Steven Finn available, they have not won again. 

“This has been the longest four days of my life but I’m proud of the way the players rose to the challenge,” the Middlesex director of cricket,  Angus Fraser, said. “They have been put under the pump and showed a bit of character, which is something that maybe has been questioned in our side.”

Chapple, 40, will learn over the next few weeks whether he is to succeed Moores in the main coaching role, an appointment that would almost certainly mean retiring as a player.

“I genuinely don’t know what the future holds,” he said. “I still enjoy playing and feel pretty decent. I’ve not had as good a season as I’d have liked but I don’t think that’s through age necessarily.

“As for the team, we’ve found again that Division One is tough, but we’ve competed with every side. If we can improve in certain areas we’ll be back for more.”