Sun sets slowly on treble chance

Lancashire 185 and 449-4 dec Hampshire 172 and 232-8
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The Independent Online
MUCH OF the point of the exercise at Old Trafford disappeared at 10 minutes to 12 yesterday with the arrival of the carrier pigeon bearing the news that a seventh Surrey wicket had fallen at The Oval.

Computers whirred, abacuses clattered and, whichever way you looked at it, Lancashire's bid for a first outright County Championship since 1934 was over for another year.

All that remained was to win an 11th Championship match and take second place, not a bad season's work along with the AXA League and NatWest titles, but not quite what the faithful had been waiting for.

With the weather set fair into the sort of early-autumn day that makes you wonder why they can't continue the season for another month or two, there seemed no reason why they should not achieve that.

A formidable second-innings total was expanded by 138 runs before a declaration at lunch, leaving Hampshire an unlikely 463 to win. The man responsible for the sheer size of that target will already be sick of hearing that, if he had scored those runs in the first innings, Lancashire could still have been in with a title chance.

As it was, John Crawley added the final flourish to his wonderful summer by taking his score to 239 and his total to an average-topping 1,851 before he played on to Kevan James.

That left room for a typically vigorous Graham Lloyd cameo before he was caught on the boundary by Dimitri Mascarenhas off Rajesh Maru. It was an overdue success for Maru, who retires after this game, as he had seen the same fielder help a similar hit over the boundary for six earlier on.

Andy Flintoff, as has been the case of late, came and went cheaply but Neil Fairbrother, although badly becalmed in the 80s and 90s, completed a century of unusual reticence.

Wasim Akram resisted the temptation of a last thrash in front of the Old Trafford crowd before his departure, at least until 2000 but probably for good, so Warren Hegg helped Fairbrother to his third Championship century of the season.

With five sessons left, there was little urgency about bowling out Hampshire. Only Derek Kenway and Robin Smith threatened to delay Lancashire unduly. Kenway, missed twice off difficult chances, made his maiden fifty before falling lbw, not playing a shot at the last ball before tea from Gary Keedy. Smith hit with characteristic power before a Gary Yates delivery turned and bowled him.

There was little resistance after that, though Alex Morris, batting with a runner, was reluctant to leave when caught at short leg by Crawley off Wasim.

With 20 minutes of the extra half-hour left, as the ultimate irony of this wet summer, play was halted two wickets short of an inevitable Lancashire win by the glare of the low sun in the batsmen's faces.