Lancashire win Championship after 77-year wait
Lancashire 480 and 211 for 2 beat Somerset 380 and 310 by eight wickets
Legend has it that the Holy Grail resides close to Taunton. Whatever the truth in that story, Lancashire will certainly reflect that they found their own version of the Grail in Somerset.
After 77 years, a heap of near misses and much wailing and gnashing of teeth, Lancashire can, at last, celebrate winning the County Championship title. After winning 10 of their 16 games, no one could claim they didn't deserve it. No team lost fewer games, either.
There have been many good teams at Lancashire since 1934. And many great players. But Halley's Comet has been a more regular visitor than Championship success. The Lancashire vintage of 2011 has now achieved something that proved beyond the likes of Clive Lloyd, Wasim Akram, Brian Statham, Murali, Stuart Law, Mike Atherton and David Lloyd. The names of Keedy, Croft, Hogg and Cross are now established forever into Lancashire history.
Lancashire won by making a virtue out of necessity. With financial constraints preventing them from recruiting big-name overseas players (the Sri Lankan Farveez Maharoof was 12th man for this game) or 'stars' from other counties, Lancashire backed a squad of largely 'home-grown' talent. Arguably, 10 of the 11 that won this game are products of the Lancashire system.
It was a crucial factor. For Lancashire didn't buy this title. They didn't win it through superior skill or superior fitness, either. They won it, largely, through team spirit.
Teams can't buy spirit. It's forged by shared experience and values. It's instilled by enjoying the success of team-mates and supporting them through the tough times. Lancashire's players knew how much a Championship title meant to the club and its supporters.
At times when other teams might have faltered - on the final day against Yorkshire and Hampshire or after the debacle at New Road, for example - Lancashire redoubled their efforts, retained their focus and refused to accept defeat. The word 'belief' reoccurred frequently in the after-match interviews. Lancashire 'believed' in themselves and each other and wouldn't let anything shake that. It's worth a great deal.
It was a characteristic apparent on the final day at Taunton. For a long time, it appeared Lancashire might be denied. It was not Warwickshire that frustrated them, however, but Somerset. Despite losing Steve Kirby and Craig Meschede (who looks distinctly uncomfortable against the short ball) to the excellent Chapple in the opening overs, Peter Trego led some spirited resistance adding 180 for the final three wickets.
Trego, showing admirable patience, recorded his first Championship century of the season and added 75 with Alfonso Thomas and 95 with Murali Kartik. Even though they batted deep into the afternoon session, however, Lancashire never gave up and, buoyed by the news of Warwickshire's struggles at The Rose Bowl, retained the belief that this was going to be their year.
In the end it was Gary Keedy who ended the Somerset innings. Rushing in from point, he scooped and threw to run out a dawdling Geemal Hussain (who endured a quite wretched game). It was the first direct hit run out Keedy has achieved in his 17-year career. It could even prove to be his final act for the club.
It left Lancashire needing 211 runs in win in a minimum of 28 overs. But, if there were any nerves, they didn't show as Horton and Moore, both of whom passed 1,000 Championship runs in this match, ended the match as a contest with a stand of 131 in 17 overs. True, the pitch was flat and Somerset's tactics unfathomable, but this was a run chase that spoke volumes for their skill, their faith and their selflessness. They won with 29 balls to spare. This isn't the end of the story for Lancashire.
A resurgent club now needs the ECB to confirm that they will host an Ashes Test in 2013; something that should occur within days. Jim Cumbes, the long-serving chief executive who has seen the club through one of the most turbulent periods in its history, can then retire with a job well done.
The team can go on from here, too. Glen Chapple has confirmed that he will play on for at least one more year and Keedy will make a decision on whether to stay with Lancashire or move to Warwickshire shortly. Many of the rest of the squad have years of good cricket ahead of them. Mike Watkinson, Lancashire's director of cricket, called this "a new dawn."
This was a fitting reward for Chapple. He will surely never now achieve the Test cap his excellence has deserved but, after 20 years service with Lancashire and having been the runner-up five times, there is no more fitting man to have led the side to the title. He bowled with great pace - at 90mph according to Peter Moores - and, despite a suspected hamstring tear - gave his side a vital attacking edge with the new ball.
He was typically modest afterwards. "The players won this; not me," he said. "It's an honour to play in this team. This couldn't taste any sweeter. We were dismissed at the start of the season - people didn't think we were good enough - but we were full of belief.
"It's a very difficult trophy to win, but we held on to that belief at all times. Our best achievement is our team spirit. Everyone behind the scenes - the brilliant medical and coaching staff - have played a huge part and Peter Moores is, without doubt, the best coach I've ever worked with."
This is a wonderful result for Moores. He could, if he was that sort of character, use this success to lambast the ECB and Kevin Pietersen for his treatment during his time as England coach.
But he's too dignified a fellow for that. Instead, he will allow others to conclude that a man who has helped two success-starved clubs to Championship titles, must be a very fine coach indeed. Whatever his issues at international level - and they may well have been more with his players than him - he is a giant at domestic level. Lancashire need to sign him up for a new contract now. As things stand, he's out of contract before the start of the 2012 season.
"We've won because we have a fantastic team spirit," Moores said. "That's what got us over the line. Glen Chapple sums that up that spirit. His will was strong and he's played for 20 years with integrity.
"We've won 10 games out of 16 on all sorts of grounds and surfaces and, after the first day here, no-one gave us much of a hope."
This was a chastening experience for Somerset. Watching Lancashire celebrate on the Taunton outfield will have stung. It is, however, a mark of the progress Somerset have made in recent years that some of their supporters are disappointed with a fourth place finish. Only clubs with Test-hosting grounds finished above them. It's a decent achievement and, in the likes of Jos Buttler, Lewis Gregory, Craig Kieswetter and George Dockrell, they have a young side that could end their wait for an elusive Championship title within the near future. In the long term, days like this will just make that success taste even sweeter.
There's little love lost between these sides. Some at Somerset resented what they saw as a lack of resistance from Lancashire in their two key games against Nottinghamshire last season. It's a pain that still burns at Taunton. "We haven't forgotten what happened at the end of last season so there is certainly an element of revenge involved," said Somerset coach, Andy Hurry, before the start of the final day.
But at least their motivation ensured that this Championship was won the right way: through hard-fought, attritional cricket. Hampshire, too, did the reputation of the Championship no harm with a determined performance against Warwickshire. Perhaps Durham, too, can feel a little unfortunate: after all, they beat both Warwickshire and Lancashire home and away.
The County Championship will always have its detractors. But, for the second year in succession, it's produced a breathless, thrilling finish. Debates about the quality are legitimate, but in terms of entertainment value, the Championship has never been better.