Nottinghamshire's stuttering and unconvincing attempt to win a sixth Championship finally ended yesterday when Charlie Shreck had a wild and futile hack at Hampshire's Imran Tahir and lobbed a simple catch to Michael Carberry at cover point. The moment would, no doubt, have been relayed in graphic detail to a celebrating Durham side boozily making their way up the M1 on the team coach.
As Durham gulped in the intoxicating air of triumph, Trent Bridge fell into a pit of soul-searching. As well as Durham have played this season, winning more games than any other Division One side, the fact that Notts blew it when the title was theirs to be won cannot be avoided.
"The game was lost on the second day, the batting performance cost us the game and the Championship," said Mick Newell, Notts' director of cricket. "We should have put together 350 to 400 and Hampshire would have played a different way in their second innings."
Notts finish the season as the nearly men of county cricket, after losing their final games in the Championship and the NatWest Pro40 and finishing second in each competition.
"It is the fourth time this season we have fallen away in big matches," said Newell. "In all four competitions we have had to play one-off winner-takes- all matches and we have lost each of them. There is obviously an issue in our ability to cope with these situations and we will have to look at it during the winter and try to correct it."
Hampshire batted into the fourth morning, finally declaring with a lead of 441 when Liam Dawson had reached his maiden first-class hundred. It could hardly be said that Notts, reeling from a dreadful first-innings collapse in which they lost seven wickets for 39, were very motivated, but Dawson struck the ball beautifully. The 18-year-old effortlessly drove Shreck over extra cover for six.
A row three years ago involving the two teams would have influenced the lateness of the declaration. In 2005, Notts set Kent a ridiculous target which they fell spectacularly, some thought recklessly, short of reaching. That cost Hampshire the title, handing it to Notts. Shane Warne, the Hampshire captain, had plenty to say about that.
If a side are to successfully chase 442 in 76 overs they need a quick start, so Notts opened with Graeme Swann. The all-rounder hacked a couple of fours before missing a heave at Dimitri Mascarenhas and losing his leg stump. Mark Wagh fell two balls later, edging a good delivery to second slip. Will Jefferson drove a stinging catch to mid-off and Ashwell Prince became Mascarenhas's fourth victim when he chipped a catch back to the bowler.
Samit Patel and Bilal Shafayat forged an excellent 94-run stand but both fell in three overs with more than 250 runs still required. Tahir's leg spin was always going to be difficult to slog and his variations proved too much for the middle and lower order, who once again fell meekly.