Alas, poor Essex, I thought I knew them well. As a side incapable of dullness, they have always fostered a proud reputation of being the exception to the rule. Unfortunately the rule governing NatWest finals states that the side who wins the toss and fields wins the match. As Essex proved so spectacularly, we live in uncertain times.
After the disbelief had settled, and Lancashire had worn their champagne overcoats, Michael Atherton thought it to be the spit of England's capitulation in Trinidad, where Curtly Ambrose and company had laid England to rest, as the unthinkable became the inexorable with every passing over. On Saturday, Essex managed 11 more than the 46 England made there in 1994. But then Glen Chapple, despite peering through a shaggy Noel Gallagher fringe, possesses neither the pace nor the menace of the West Indian quicks.
Instead, he destroyed his opponents, his 6 for 18 the product of a very English combination of seam and swing: the Duke ball denied to England during the series with Pakistan performing every known deviation, as well as a few normally confined to the less well-lit back streets of Soho.
The pitch was both catalyst and chief villain, an example of a tired surface that was surprisingly the same for both sides - the September dew for once not unduly advancing the prospects of the side bowling first. Indeed, Lancashire later revealed they would have batted had the coin fallen favourably. It was a decision that looked far shrewder in hindsight than it did at their innings end, when their modest 186 had looked distinctly vulnerable.
Essex had bowled well, or so we thought. It was not until Peter Martin's bouncy outswing and Chapple's zippy doodlebugs threw the Essex bowler's efforts into sharp relief that criticisms began to surface. For one thing, Essex allowed Lancashire too many extras and score balls at a time when survival should have been their sole concern.
Only Mark Ilott and Ronnie Irani consistently bowled the full length that takes wickets in such favourable conditions, with the impressive- looking Ashley Cowan, perhaps understandably, opting for the caution of a shorter length on this the first and biggest occasion of his career.
Ilott also had two stone-dead lbw decisions turned down, the crucial one being John Crawley first ball. It is true that Ilott rarely swings the ball as he did on Saturday, but Crawley's was the perfect left-arm swing bowler's delivery - the late inswing catching Crawley's half-cocked pad in front of middle stump.
Had that other Essex left-armer John Lever been denied such instances, his career tally would have been cut in half. One can only imagine that umpire David Shepherd took it upon himself to make a game of it, which Crawley's 66 more than did. If not, there can be no other explanation and Ilott might as well keep mute forever more.
Injustice or not, Crawley made the most of it, as he clipped and cut Essex's softer offerings amongst the peaches, marshalling Lancashire's response with unruffled aplomb. To their credit, Lancashire did not panic even when they lost their main playmakers, Neil Fairbrother and Graham Lloyd, just before lunch. Only some injudicious shots against Peter Such's confining off-spin betrayed the perceived insecurity of their situation, and Mike Watkinson was bowled giving himself room while Crawley was nimbly stumped by the alert Robert Rollins after an inside edge had trickled awkwardly behind the batsman.
From that moment, it was all Lancashire as Essex, who have had an unrivalled capacity for turning setbacks into crises, edged haplessly to waiting hands. For once, it was all too much for Graham Gooch, whose 25 years at the club suddenly caught up with him. Gooch has never taken losing lightly. At one stage it looked as if he had exiled himself out on the pitch, remaining becalmed on the same score for 10 overs. Yet to participate in such a non-event was bitter humiliation of a proud Essex man, and he went home unable to raise any enthusiasm for a team night out in the West End.
For Lancashire, the win proves little that is not already known: they are a brilliant and resilient one-day side. Unfortunately, beyond the chanting euphoria of their supporters, the club knows that all the one- day baubles in the world will not give them the respect they crave and which only a Championship will bring.
But as bewildered, half-sozzled Essex fans still seeking explanation will perhaps now know, glory and disaster are but a corner turned down a once-familiar street.
NatWest Trophy final scoreboard
Essex won toss
J E R Gallian lbw b Irani 21
M A Atherton b Ilott 4
J P Crawley st Rollins b Such 66
N H Fairbrother b Irani 9
G D Lloyd c Gooch b Irani 1
*M Watkinson b Such 18
W K Hegg b Grayson 15
I D Austin c Cowan b Grayson 18
G Chapple c Cowan b Grayson 4
G Yates run out 9
P J Martin not out 5
Extras (b4, lb3, w5, nb4) 16
Total (60 overs) 186
Fall: 1-16, 2-48, 3-86, 4-88, 5-122, 6-139, 7-157, 8-168, 9-175.
Bowling: Ilott 12-2-29-1; Williams 7.4-0-39-0; Irani 12-5-25-3; Cowan 12-2-33-0; Such 12-1-29-2; Grayson 4.2-0-24-3.
G A Gooch lbw b Gallian 10
A P Grayson c Hegg b Martin 6
N Hussain c Hegg b Martin 2
*P J Prichard c Fairbrother b Martin 6
R C Irani b Chapple 5
D D J Robinson c Fairbrother b Chapple 2
R J Rollins b Chapple 0
M C Ilott lbw b Chapple 0
N F Williams not out 11
A P Cowan b Chapple 11
P M Such b Chapple 0
Extras (lb1, w3) 4
Total (27.2 overs) 57
Fall: 1-13, 2-17, 3-25, 4-31, 5-33, 6-33, 7-33, 8-34, 9-57.
Bowling: Martin 10-2-17-3; Austin 7-3-10-0; Chapple 6.2-1-18-6; Gallian 4-0-11-1.
Umpires: P Willey and D R Shepherd.
Man of the match: G Chapple.Reuse content