Lancashire go down fighting as Sussex secure title
Lancashire's quest ended in heroic failure after a nail-biting season finale at The Oval. Having been set a county record 489 to win against Surrey, Lancashire fell 24 runs short as their last remaining hope, Dominic Cork, was bowled by Murtaza Hussain for 47 with the shadows lengthening and four-and-a-bit overs remaining.
On what the groundsman Bill Gordon told Cricinfo was "still a decent track", Lancashire lost two early wickets before VVS Laxman and Stuart Law set them on their way. At lunch they were 178 for 2, up with the asking rate of five an over, and they continued that pace in the afternoon, despite losing Laxman for a superb hundred. The match turned in the penultimate over of the afternoon session when Jade Dernbach removed Law and Steve Croft.
Lancashire's tail refused to buckle. Glenn Chapple made 29 and Sajid Mahmood 26, but Surrey continued to chip away to keep Sussex and Lancashire supporters on tenterhooks. When Oliver Newby was dismissed by Jade Dernbach for 4, Lancashire were still 37 runs adrift with only the No. 11 Gary Keedy to come, and valiantly though they tried, the requirement was just too much.
The Championship trophy and cheque for £100,000 had been waiting at Hove but ECB officials were poised to rush back to London. In the end Cork sized up a sweep shot, Murtaza defeated his flailing bat, and the dream was over. At the end of it all, Lancashire's captain Mark Chilton was in tears. "I am proud of what our guys have done today," he said. "They've been fabulous. I thought to even get close was a phenomenal effort ...the lads are just broken."
Meanwhile Sussex's victorious captain, Chris Adams, had been looking on nervously in the Hove dressing-room. "It's been the most excruciating afternoon," he said. "We were panicking like hell in there."
Sussex had earlier completed their side of the bargain by wrapping up a comfortable win over an already relegated Worcestershire at Hove. The visitors resumed on 190 for 5, still 129 short of making Sussex bat again, and showed some fight to frustrate the home support and to extend the game to the brink of lunch.
With the Lancashire result still to come, Adams, the captain, spoke to a large crowd on the PA to thank them for their support. "It's strange," he said. "People have turned out in huge numbers, we've said thanks to and we can do no more ... we just have to sit and wait." it proved to be a long wait as well.
Adams praised the contribution of Mushtaq who he admitted he had "bowled into the ground ... not that he'll mind." He continued: "It's not only his ability, it's his commitment, his desire to keep bowling overs. He just turns up and keeps churning out the overs and waning to take wickets. He's a fabulous character and he inspires so many of the other players. It'll be a sad day when he goes."
Sussex's players all hugged each when the last wicket fell other but the celebrations were muted as the title was still not confirmed as theirs. The win took them above Durham but they could still have been caught if Lancashire had pulled off their remarkable rearguard.
After a washout yesterday the match between Hampshire and Yorkshire at Headingley was abandoned.
Final Championship Table