Lancashire slump to Nottinghamshire seamers
Nottinghamshire 203 and 233 beat Lancashire 179 and 128 by 129 runs
Five games to go - six in the case of Warwickshire - and Lancashire's title ambitions look a little less convincing than they did at the end of the victory over Yorkshire at Leeds last week, a result that left them primed to overtake Durham at the top of the First Division by beating a side without a win in the Championship since April.
That was the plan. Needless to say, the script they followed deviated rather severely from the original. Indeed, in the end they were beaten rather miserably, falling a long way short of a fourth-innings target of 258 as Andre Adams and Darren Pattinson exposed their batting as lacking substance.
It was a tough target - with that no one would argue. The track has not been the spinners' paradise that both sides had imagined but normal wear and tear made scoring 25 more runs than the highest of the previous three innings a tall order. Yet it was not an impossible one and had there been one Lancashire batsman able to rise to the challenge and produce the solid, anchoring innings that was needed, they would surely have gone close. And in that there would have been no disgrace at all.
Yet the best they could muster was Karl Brown's 23 and the margin was not close at all. Adams, back to the form that made him the leading wicket-taker in the country last year, took 4 for 51 to finish with ten in the match. Pattinson, who has been troubled by injuries in a stop-start season, looked similarly rejuvenated, taking 5 for 44.
It was no wonder that coach Peter Moores, who knows a thing or two about winning titles from his pre-England days with Sussex, pronounced himself "disappointed" in his typically understated way. He was only too aware that an opportunity had been missed, particularly since Nottinghamshire had been 27 for 5 on the opening day.
"It is disappointing," he said. "We never really got that close. We got off to a flyer in the first three overs today but Notts bowled very well after that and we were always under pressure. Although Chapple bowled well for us, Adams was probably the pick of the bowlers on both sides.
"At 27 for 5 on the first morning the game was obviously with us but, credit to them, their lower orders got some valuable runs as a unit and as a combination Adams and Pattinson were always hard work for us.
"They just played a little bit better. There were a couple of periods where our bowlers leaked a few runs and we did not get any substantial partnerships with the bat. But you have to be able to take a loss. We are still in the mix and with five games to go it is probable the team that wins three of them that will take the title."
Lancashire, then, could have been healthily in front but will still begin the next round of matches only two points behind leaders Durham. The chance to bounce back comes at Liverpool on Monday, where third-placed Warwickshire are the visitors. Durham, meanwhile, are themselves up against Notts, who could therefore do Lancashire a favour.
The loss of Alex Hales and Samit Patel to England Lions duty does not come at a good moment but at least Chris Read's team looked something closer to the one that won the title in 2010. Their defence has stuttered. This was their first win since April.
"One of the things that was to our advantage here was that we had more pace than Lancashire and with Saj Mahmood not playing," director of cricket Mike Newell said. "I think both sides would agree we misread the pitch after expecting it to spin and the pace off the wicket we had from Adams and Pattinson was crucial.
"It's a huge relief because we've gone two and a half months without winning a game. Andre has been really good for us. The last couple of games he's come back into form after having a little lull. Darren has hardly played any four-day cricket because of injuries, although he's been our key man in Twenty20, and we were keen to get him back involved.
"Lancashire have been playing excellent four-day cricket and they're going to have an interesting race between them, Durham and probably Warwickshire for the championship but it was nice to throw a spanner in the works here.
"Andre has been a key figure in our improvement. The batsmen who had been out there for any length of time in the first innings felt he would be a crucial bowler on that wicket and I thought he was absolutely outstanding."
Indeed, the 36-year-old New Zealander bowled superbly here, whether he was drawing batsmen into injudicious drives or, as Paul Horton found to his cost, persuading them to leave balls that swung back late. Pattinson, who has struggled for fitness, looked in decent order too.
Lancashire had started positively with Stephen Moore cutting Pattinson's first ball of the day for four and then pulling him for six onto the railway line that passes the Trafalgar Road ground in his next over.
But their progress was brought to a stop when Pattinson tempted Moore into a carve off the back foot and Alex Hales took a sharp catch at first slip. Adams, whose six first-innings wickets had been vital to Notts claiming a narrow but important lead, struck in his third over, dismissing Horton and Mark Chilton in successive balls. Horton opted to leave a ball that jagged back and took his off stump before Chilton pushed forward tentatively and edged to Chris Read.
Steven Croft survived the hat-trick ball but departed four overs later, edging behind. Brown was dropped on one by Hales off Pattinson and profited for a while from his reprieve as he and Tom Smith guided Lancashire to lunch at 79 for 4.
But it was not to be a platform for a significant advance. Three balls into the afternoon, Pattinson sent Brown's off stump flying with no addition to the score and Notts began to sense a swift passage to victory.
The decisive spell came when three wickets fell in the space of nine balls without a run scored as Smith nicked Adams to second slip and then Pattinson removed Gareth Cross, who chopped on, and Kyle Hogg, squirting a catch to second slip, as Pattinson registered a double-wicket maiden.
Pattinson completed his five by bowling Chapple off his pads before Simon Kerrigan chipped a ball from Luke Fletcher into the hands of mid-off, fittingly involving Graeme White in the final action of the match.
Ironically, after being selected as second spinner for Notts, White did not bowl a ball in the match. Yet his half-century in the second innings was probably the match-winning knock.