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George Dobell at Taunton
September 14, 2011
Somerset 380 and 105 for 5 v Lancashire 480
The last time Lancashire won the County Championship outright, Adolf Hitler had just organised the Night of the Long Knives, Roosevelt had just launched the 'New Deal' and the Loch Ness monster had just been seen for the first time. It was 1934.
There have been times since when Lancashire have gone close. They've finished second in the Championship eight times since 1934 - five times in the last 13 years - and shared a title in 1950. In 2007, a last-day run chase also fell agonisingly short.
But whether 2011 will turn out to be another near-miss or finally end their 77-year run of disappointment remains to be seen. With one day remaining of another absorbing Championship season, Warwickshire and Lancashire remain locked in battle. It would be fatuous to suggest it doesn't matter whether Lancashire clinch the trophy. To the players who have worked tirelessly and to the spectators who have followed every twist and turn, it matters plenty.
But whatever happens on the final day, it should do nothing to diminish the fact that Lancashire have enjoyed a superb season. Whatever happens on the final day, the team, the coaches and their supporters can feel justifiably proud.
Several former players have been heard to utter - off the record - that this is one of the weakest Lancashire sides for many years. And, maybe, in terms of individual talent, they have a point.
But cricket is a team game. And Lancashire have achieved the ultimate aim of any team by becoming more than the sum of their parts. They are not, by any reckoning, a bad team. It was a sense emphasised several times on the third day here. In Lancashire's innings, for example, no individual scored more than 68, yet everyone contributed with a double-figure score. It's believed to be only the second time the county have achieved that in the first innings of a first-class match; the other occasion came against Sussex, at Old Trafford in 1957.
Then, with Lancashire desperate to achieve a fifth batting bonus point, the lower order - and Kyle Hogg and Glen Chapple in particular - accelerated selflessly against some negative bowling and defensive field placing. They eventually clinched that fifth point with just three deliveries remaining of the 110 overs. It's the first time this season they've claimed all five batting bonus points in a game. Even Gary Keedy and Simon Kerrigan played their part, adding 57 in just 11 overs for the tenth wicket to earn a first innings lead of 100. Kerrigan, a cricketer very much in the ascendancy, improved his career-best score for the second game in succession.
Paul Horton, meanwhile, typified their excellence in the field. He clung on to two more chances, including an outrageous effort - diving to his left at slip and taking the catch at the second attempt - in the dying moments of the day to get rid of Jos Buttler. Only Daryl Mitchell and Rikki Clarke have held on to more catches in Division One this season.
Most of all, however, there was the sight of Chapple, apparently struggling to walk only a day or so before, charging in with the new ball. Typically, he was leading from the front and bowling, as ever it seems, with pace and skill. His example can only have served to inspire his team-mates.
"I think it's torn," Chapple said of his hamstring afterwards. "They've got the wheelchair ready for me. I didn't expect to be able to bowl to be honest. But sometimes a very good physio can off-load the pain. I've got some serious strapping on and I've been on some painkillers. I don't know how I'll pull up tomorrow. But, fingers crossed, I'll be able to go again."
Several times during the day Lancashire went to the top of the table as the struggle with Warwickshire ebbed and flowed. Liam Dawson - a fellow whose parents come from Lancashire - was certainly doing his best to deny Warwickshire.
By stumps, however, despite victory in this match surely within Lancashire's grasp, the tide in Southampton had turned Warwickshire's way. The truth is that Lancashire's fate is no longer in their own hands. They are in the uncomfortable situation of needing a relegated side to bat through most of a day against the championship leaders.
Some will blame the dropped point for a slow over-rate against Nottinghamshire. Some will blame the capitulation at New Road. Most seasons, however, Lancashire's total of 10 victories would surely be enough to guarantee success.
"We can't effect what's going on 100 miles away," Chapple said. "We're very confident and positive about our position in this game and that's about all we can do. We've proved we're a good side. We've done well in all aspects of the game and our commitment is the best thing we've got.
"If someone offers you 10 wins at the start of the season, you'd bite their hand off. We would next season as well. Whatever happens, we'll have had a great year."
This was a somewhat dispiriting day for Somerset. With their Championship race run, their eyes are already focusing on the CB40 final and the Champions League. Murali Kartik finished with his first five-wicket haul of a disappointing season, but he was never at his best.
Somerset's batting, shorn of three first choice players, looked fragile when they began their second innings. Arul Suppiah was beaten by one that nipped back from the distinctly sharp Chapple, before Alex Barrow, for the second time in the match, edged an indeterminate prod at a good one on off stump and Chris Jones edged a beauty that squared him up.
James Hildreth, cutting beautifully, and Jos Buttler resisted for a while. But when Hildreth, head in the air, charged down the pitch in an attempt to thrash a ball in to the Blackdown Hills and was stumped by miles and Buttler was brilliantly caught by Horton, diving to his left at slip to cling on to an edge off a delivery that turned sharply, the writing was on the wall. Somerset reached stumps five ahead with only five wickets in hand.
"We've got a lot to do because it's still a good pitch," Chapple continued. "On that pitch, to take three with the new ball, was a great effort.
It was noticeable that this charming ground began to fill with Lancashire supporters as the day wore on. The hotels in Taunton are full to bursting. Whether they've gathered to witness a coronation or a wake, however, remains to be seen.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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