Magical Kerrigan keeps Lancashire in contention
Lancashire 388 and 353 for 3 dec beat Hampshire 381 and 138 by 222 runs
A magical nine-wicket haul from Simon Kerrigan, the 22-year-old left-arm spinner, inspired Lancashire to a vital 222-run victory against Hampshire, with just four minutes remaining in an extraordinary final session, to move them to within three points of leaders Warwickshire heading into the final round of Championship matches which start on Monday.
It looked as though Lancashire would be denied in heart-breaking fashion at Aigburth as Neil McKenzie and James Tomlinson survived 21 overs to take Hampshire to within touching distance of safety. However, in what would have been his final over of the match, Kerrigan found the edge of McKenzie's bat and Tom Smith held the catch at second slip which prompted a mini pitch evasion and chants of "Oh Lanky, Lanky."
Glen Chapple, the Lancashire captain, said it was the worse few minutes of his career as he feared the final wicket wouldn't fall. "They were 10 awful minutes," he said. "I was struggling to keep calm to be honest. From 45 minutes to get the last wicket and thinking it's going to happen reasonably easily, to becoming a little anxious it when to just praying at the end. But we did keep beliving and there was a great catch to finish it."
Kerrigan's final figures of 9 for 51 - in just his third Championship game of the season - were the best for Lancashire since 1953 when Roy Tattersall took 9 for 40 and included seven victims after he had changed to the River End for the first time in the match shortly before tea. There had been extra bounce from that end throughout the game - for pace and spin - and Kerrigan exploited it superbly to finish with 12 in the match as alert close catchers held onto the chances that came their way.
Midway through the final session Hampshire were 53 for 1 and time was ticking away for Lancashire. They had batted for most of the morning session to leave a minimum of 67 overs for Hampshire who were never interested in the run chase. In the end Lancashire delivered plenty more as Kerrigan and Gary Keedy bowled 70.2 of the overs sent down, but if that final, crucial, wicket hadn't come their way - and with the visitors so far from the target - questions would, no doubt, have been asked. Instead, though, a quarter of an hour after the final wicket Lancashire's players could be heard belting out their victory song.
"Midway through the day I think we'd have taken [a draw] on the chin and thought we still hand a chance of the title," Chapple said. "But with 45 minutes to go and one wicket needed it would have been gutting. It's a damn good job we got over the line."
It was County Championship cricket at its most intense and enthralling. The domestic game gets bad press at times, but throughout the four days here the action has been engrossing and of a high class. And, yet again, the title will go down to the final week of the season with three counties in with a strong chase. Hampshire, meanwhile, need Durham to do them a huge favour against Worcestershire to have any chance to staying in Division One.
Lancashire began the day 203 ahead and batted for a further 27 overs at a healthy rate. Stephen Moore's unbeaten 169 was his highest score for Lancashire and also the team's best individual innings for the season. Hampshire reached lunch without alarm but it soon became clear they had no intention of having a dip at the target despite being rooted to the foot of the table. As it was in the first innings spin made the inroads for Lancashire, the first coming straight after a brief 15-minute rain break when Liam Dawson charged at Kerrigan and was beaten by turn.
It took 10 overs before the next breakthrough arrived when Kerrigan struck again, continuing his impressive match, to have Jimmy Adams lbw on the back foot. Then, in a crucial period leading into tea, they claimed two more top-order scalps when Michael Carberry clipped lazily to mid-on and James Vince was pinned lbw by Kerrigan with his first ball from the River End.
However, the real drama started in the first hour of the final session as Kerrigan produced a spell that, if Lancashire go on to claim their first title in 77 years, will go down in the club's folklore. Continuing from the River End he claimed three wickets in eight deliveries as he found bounce and bite. Sean Ervine was caught at slip then Michael Bates was yorked second ball and in Kerrigan's next over Dimirti Mascarenhas gloved an unplayable delivery to Paul Horton.
Eight more overs went by then Kerrigan made another one bounce to have Chris Wood caught behind as Gareth Cross juggled the catch and he soon added his eighth to remove opposite number Danny Briggs. Time, at that point, was on Lancashire's side but, as so often is the case, the final push for victory was the hardest. Expect a few more twists before the Championship trophy is handed over.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo