A triumph against the odds
It wouldn't have felt quite right if Lancashire had ended their 77-year wait for the Championship title without a twist. So for those who have followed their campaign (and many previous campaigns that have fallen short) throughout, the sight of Peter Trego picking the final afternoon of the season to score his first hundred of the summer was par for the course. It left them needing 211 in just over a session, but given some of their finishes - for example, last week's win against Hampshire with four minutes to spare - a victory with five overs left represented breathing space.
Yet in many ways, the real twist had come 100 miles away in Southampton as hundreds from Michael Carberry and Neil McKenzie denied Warwickshire the victory that would have given them the title. They'll drink free for life at Old Trafford, and there are a few new stands that still need to be named, but on a serious note, whatever Lancashire did at Taunton wouldn't have mattered a jot if Hampshire had folded. Given they were already relegated come the final day, it was an impressive show of pride.
As the players shook hands at The Rose Bowl, Lancashire were within touching distance - less than 30 runs away - and this time it wasn't going to slip away. A few minutes later a county few had expected to challenge for honours this season, and who many had tipped to battle against relegation, were crowned champions.
What will make this sweeter is that it was a victorious campaign built in adversity. The club had no money for new or overseas players - the legal wrangling over the redevelopment of Old Trafford cost them at least £2million - and were, in four-day cricket at least, a team without a home (although playing at outgrounds, such as Aigburth, proved a crucial factor in success but only because the players made it so with a determined attitude to make the best of the situation). "Is this the worst Lancashire team ever?" was asked early in the season, followed by "Will this be the worst team to win the Championship?" as the end drew nearer.
How the players proved people wrong. True, Lancashire are short on "star" names but perhaps that is the key. Apart from James Anderson (whom they didn't factor into their equations) they didn't lose players to England and didn't have overseas recruits floating in and out for a few weeks here and there. Farveez Maharoof, the Sri Lanka allrounder, was brought in on a shoestring budget, and although he wasn't in the XI at the end of the season, he still played a crucial role, especially with his 102 against Somerset and his rapid 31 in the run-chase against Yorkshire
However, saying the side is short on big names isn't the same as saying they are short on high-quality cricketers. Glen Chapple is an immense captain, never better typified than when he bowled on one leg against Somerset. The 36-year-old Gary Keedy is one of the finest spinners never to have played for England. Stephen Moore was, just a couple of seasons ago, considered an England candidate. Simon Kerrigan has the makings of an international spinner. The highest level has passed by for Kyle Hogg and Tom Smith also, but they are at the top of the county game.
Winning the Championship is about striking a balance in a squad and also making best use of the resources available - however much that sounds like something out of a corporate manual. It's also about making some tough calls, which Chapple and Peter Moores haven't been afraid to do. Sajid Mahmood, who took 35 wickets at 29.85, didn't play the final two games, while Mark Chilton, a former captain, was dropped. That was because youngsters like Kerrigan and Luke Procter warranted a place.
The team were also greater than the sum of their parts. On the final afternoon Moore and Paul Horton squeezed past 1000 runs for the season, but a look down the averages will show that every player (apart from Junaid Khan, who played a single game) averaged at least 12, as runs came right through the order. It's numerical evidence of the "spirit" that carried Lancashire. Take for example Kerrigan, again, who scored 40 in the first innings against Somerset to take the lead to 100, or Chapple's 97 against Hampshire. How vital those innings became.
However, it's the bowling statistics that show where this title was really won. Kerrigan averaged 18.20 (albeit from just four matches), Hogg took 50 wickets at 18.80, Chapple 55 at 19.81 and Keedy 61 at 23.63. They were backed up by Mahmood and Smith. Bowlers win Championships, as Nottinghamshire showed last year.
Then there's the man behind the players. Moores turned down an invite to The Oval last month when England got together key personnel from their climb to No. 1 in the world. In the immediate aftermath of his sacking as England coach, and in the years since, he has shown complete dignity. This Championship title, to add to the duck-breaking title he won with Sussex in 2003, has proved that he is a coach of the highest regard. Don't rule out another dip into the international game, although it would be a surprise if he left Lancashire any time soon.
To sustain this success Lancashire will need to invest. Chapple won't be around much longer, and they could do with another top-order batsman. But they are a club that produces good cricketers - the second XI reached the final of the one-day competition - and it was telling how Moores, when talking about Kerrigan last week, mentioned the importance of the Lancashire League structure. "The school of hard knocks," he called it, and this team have shown themselves capable of withstanding a few of those.
Whatever happens in the future, this success will go down as one of Lancashire's greatest triumphs, and really, the whole season couldn't have gone much better. The legal battles to secure Old Trafford's redevelopment took time and money but they have been won. The club will find out soon whether they will get to host a 2013 Ashes Test - the vibes from within are positive - and further building work is well underway. And now there's one priceless addition to the new-look ground: a Championship pennant.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo