It seemed that the crushing victory they had hoped for from the dress rehearsal would indeed come about and their opponents would emerge on the grand stage today in their minds already beaten. In the end it did not quite work out like that. Lancashire won all right - but by the margin of a single wicket, with eight balls to spare, after Northamptonshire fought back in a manner which nullifies any advantage Michael Atherton and company might have gained from the result.
Northamptonshire were rescued by an extraordinary partnership between the all-rounder, Tony Penberthy, and their 43-year-old player-coach, John Emburey, who added 112 for the eighth wicket, a county record in the competition. Emburey later took three wickets.
The recovery confirmed to Penberthy, and his team-mates, that Lancashire would be unwise to be complacent about today's outcome.
"We believe we are a good side when the pressure is on whereas Lancashire, we feel, are inclined to panic a little," Penberthy said. "We had the worst of the conditions on Wednesday yet Lancashire still only just scraped home. I think all those pundits who have been writing us off in their predictions about the final might have been a little premature in making such strong Lancashire favourites."
Lancashire will rightly identify Curtly Ambrose as posing the biggest threat to their ambitions and will be pleased if they can restrict Rob Bailey's effectiveness with the bat, taking note of the two centuries the new captain has acquired on the way to the final.
But much of Northamptonshire's progress has been achieved through everyone pitching in, with notable contributions among others from the left-arm swing bowler Paul Taylor, the developing talent of Mal Loye, the evergreen David Capel and the unlikely hero of the semi-final with Warwickshire, Tim Walton, who repaid an unexpected selection with an innings-saving 70 and two vital run-outs.
If there is a weakness in Lancashire's impressive depth of all-round ability, it is in the spin department. But that represents only a thin chink in their armour, fielding a line-up which offers six or seven genuine bowling options and batting down even to the No 11, Peter Martin, who secured a dramatic last-gasp triumph over Yorkshire in the semi-final.
And they possess an England captain who insists that he is relishing another big occasion at Lord's as much as anyone, despite finding it necessary to take a break through fatigue before the Nottingham Test. "I needed a short break from county cricket to recharge my batteries," the England captain said. "But the Test match went well for me and I feel fine now."
He will revel, also, in the freedom of being back in the ranks, while Mike Watkinson grapples with the tactical headaches. Concentrating on his own game, Atherton made 93 in last year's final as Lancashire beat Kent by 35 runs to take the prize for the third time. "It will be nice not to worry about reading the pitch or working out field placings and bowling changes," he said.
Today's match, meanwhile represents a kind of homecoming for the Cornishman, Penberthy, whose earliest memories of a Lord's final were as a three-year- old taken along by his family to watch Troon win the first of three National Village Championships between 1972-76. His father, Gerald, played in the 1973 triumph.
"Lord's has usually been a lucky place for me," he said. "I did all right playing for Young England there and although it was a disappointment to lose the NatWest final last year I was part of the team that won it in 1992."
LANCASHIRE (from): M A Atherton, M Watkinson (capt), J E R Gallian, J P Crawley, N H Fairbrother, G D Lloyd, N J Speak, W K Hegg (wkt), I D Austin, S Elworthy, G Chapple, G Yates, P J Martin.
NORTHAMPTONSHIRE (from): A Fordham, R R Montgomerie, D J Capel, R J Bailey (capt), M B Loye, R J Warren (wkt), K M Curran, T C Walton, A L Penberthy, J E Emburey, C E L Ambrose, J P Taylor.Reuse content