Shortly before five o'clock at Old Trafford the sun was shining and spectators were putting up umbrellas and tugging on raincoats. A couple of minutes later Nottinghamshire were county champions. It had been that sort of day.
It was not perhaps the 24 hours that saved cricket's soul – not when it began with police charging Mervyn Westfield, a former Essex player, of attempting to influence the course of a match – but it was one of rare sporting excitement and one for those who firmly believe that the much-derided County Championship, a competition shoe-horned on to either end of the season, is still a prize worth fighting for to the very end.
The Championship was not settled until its season had entered its final hour of its final day when Shivnarine Chanderpaul, a batsman who has built a career on a limpet-like presence at the crease, edged only his third ball to third slip where Samit Patel clung on. The bowler, Andre Adams, the burly New Zealander, sped across the Old Trafford turf, arms outstretched, head tipped back in the glory of the moment. Lancashire had lost their third wicket – which meant a bowling bonus point for Nottinghamshire to draw them level with Somerset at the top of the table, both on 214 points. But Nottinghamshire had seven wins, Somerset six – Chris Read's side were champions again, for the second time in five years. Over at Chester-le-Street, Somerset's game with Durham had ended in a draw 20 minutes earlier and the players retreated to the away dressing room and waited for events to unfold in Manchester.
It is one of the county game's more curious anomalies – it is a sport full of curious anomalies – that Somerset have never won the championship. Yesterday for much of an enthralling day it seemed the wait was coming to an end. The deeds of some great names, Botham, Richards and Garner, were set to be surpassed by Trego, Hildreth and Willoughby, names known with any glint of recognition only by the stalwarts of the county circuit.
There is one great name, certainly when it comes to the county's history, on the Somerset team-sheet. But not even the admirable Marcus Trescothick could conjure one last hurrah. Trescothick's first season as captain – a tough, demanding job mentally and physically – ends tomorrow at Lord's when his side, already runners-up in the Twenty20 Cup as well, have one last chance to win something in the final of the 40-over competition against Warwickshire.
After yesterday's events many will be willing them to succeed, not least for Trescothick's sake. He had plodded back and forward from first slip to first slip through most of the day, shirt sleeves firmly buttoned. Finally he took the catch to end the Durham innings and leave Somerset to score 181 in 17 overs. The sleeves were rolled up when he marched out to open the innings moments later. But it was an innings too far.
Nottinghamshire eked out the 400 they need for the all-important batting point – the bowlers completing the job for the batsmen in what has often been the way at Trent Bridge. This is a county built on seam from Alfred Shaw through Harold Larwood and Richard Hadlee to his compatriot Adams, who took his tally to 68 wickets for the season. It was Ryan Sidebottom, an exiled Yorkshireman, who took the first Lancashire wicket having shared in that nerve-jarring last-wicket stand with Darren Pattinson, the Grimsby-born, Australian-raised one-cap wonder. It was that sort of a day, muddling, occasionally middling but overall a growing, wonderful tension... "there's a breathless hush in the close tonight". It was a day cricket needs many more of.
Timeline: How a dramatic final day unfolded
As Somerset and Yorkshire get underway, the title race is wide open. Both they and Notts can win it, but Somerset look the likeliest
Somerset 211, Notts 205, Yorks 203
Yorks' hopes are in tatters as they're all out for 138 against Kent. Notts are finally underway at Old Trafford after early rain
Somerset 211, Notts 205, Yorks 203
Two wickets for Somerset put them in the driving seat as they go to lunch. Durham are 255-5, a lead of just 115
Somerset 211, Notts 205
Hopes rising in the East Midlands as Notts race past 300 to grab their third batting point. They're catching Somerset
Somerset 211, Notts 208
Durham all out. Somerset need 181 to win from 18 overs. Marcus Trescothick hits out as Notts reach 400 minutes later
Somerset 211, Notts 210
The captains shake hands at Durham where Somerset have drawn. All eyes on Old Trafford now...
Somerset 214, Notts 210
...where Shivnarine Chanderpaul is caught off the bowling of Andre Adams – and Notts are crowned champions on matches won
Final table: Notts 214, Somerset 214Reuse content