Somerset sprint to finish

Lancashire 324 and 126 v Somerset 385 and 66-0 Somerset win by 10 wickets
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The Independent Online

Somerset have never won a County Championship and have not threatened to mount a challenge since the early 1980s, the golden era of Botham, Richards, Garner and company. Yet there is no quibbling over their place in the First Division table this morning, following a result that leaves Lancashire's prospects in an increasingly sorry state.

By completing a 10-wicket victory with four sessions to spare yesterday, Somerset consolidated second place and closed the gap between themselves and Yorkshire to 14 points. The leaders have played one match fewer, but still have to face Surrey twice. Lancashire, having begun this round in third place, are now close to the relegation places.

They deserve some measure of sympathy for what has happened here, having lost their captain and No 3 batsman, John Crawley, on the opening day following a family bereavement, which lengthened the odds against their finding a way back into the match from a first-innings deficit of 61. However, his absence could not excuse a second-innings collapse to 126 all out.

Lancashire already appear to be feeling sorry for themselves over how the loss of Muttiah Muralitharan will effect their title chances now that the Sri Lankan off-spinner is required for international cricket. Nonetheless, on a turning track, Somerset would not have felt confident about taking on Gary Keedy and Chris Schofield had Lancashire been able to set them 200 or more.

But there was never much suggestion that they would reach anything resembling such a position. Somerset had lost their one surviving first-innings wicket without extending their lead, but Lancashire were three down even before they could level the scores. Andy Flintoff, pushed up the order because of Crawley's non-participation, promised initially to seize the initiative, cutting and driving three boundaries from consecutive balls during a loose first over from Ian Blackwell, the left-arm spinner, that cost 15 runs.

But this was a promise unfulfilled. After Steffan Jones had removed Mark Chilton and Neil Fairbrother with the first balls of his first two overs, leaving Lancashire 58 for 3, Flintoff felt obliged to go on to the defensive, which did not suit him at all, and ended with the ignominy of being bowled offering no stroke.

Thereafter, Lancashire's innings subsided quickly, the last six wickets taken in nine overs. Richard Johnson, bowling to a testing length and getting movement in the air, removed the first-innings saviours Schofield, Glen Chapple and Peter Martin in his second, decisive spell to finish with 4 for 40. Blackwell, adding an easy return catch offered by John Wood to the earlier slip catch given by Warren Hegg, ended with 3 for 47.

There was a threat of rain in the air as Somerset batted again but Jamie Cox and Piran Holloway needed only 18 overs to acquire the 66 runs needed to win. Lancashire, meanwhile, need to beat Durham in their Cheltenham and Gloucester quarter-final at Blackpool on Wednesday if their season is not to fizzle out.