Shahzad and Hogg take Lancs from agony to ecstasy
Lancashire 170 (Horton 49*, Onions 5-43) and 200 for 8 (Prince 51, Onions 6-52) beat Durham 102 (Procter 5-17) and 267 (Stokes 121) by two wickets
Of all the conclusions envisaged for this curiously compelling match, a pulsating last-over finish was not high on the list. The fall of 18 wickets on the first day seemed to point to a conventional low-scoring contest with the batsmen thankful to mosey along at two runs an over or so.
Yet prolonged drizzle meant that a thrilling run-chase, albeit without any of the restrictions attached to the shorter forms of the game, was exactly what the final-day crowd at Chester-le-Street were treated to. And it made sweet, if heart-stopping viewing for Lancashire supporters, whose team won their first Championship match of the season by reaching their target of exactly 200 with a mere four balls and two wickets to spare.
If the architect of victory was Ashwell Prince, whose 51 was his sixth first-class half-century this season, much of the attention and glory will be rightly claimed by the ninth-wicket pair of Kyle Hogg and Ajmal Shahzad. Undaunted, perhaps even provoked, by the task of scoring 32 in 5.4 overs, the pair took the attack to the Durham bowlers in fearless style and Shahzad's straight drive for four off Steve Harmison which ended the match sparked scenes of joy on pitch and balcony alike. The former Yorkshire cricketer may have been castigated across the Pennines for his contributions to the team effort but nobody was doubting his commitment to the Red Rose here. Durham's players, of course, were desolate.
Yet Shahzad's 19 and Hogg's 12 would have counted for little had not Prince steered the visitors' innings to 159 for 5 before he gallivanted down the wicket only to edge Jamie Harrison to Gordon Muchall at slip. That rush of blood reflected the urgency of Lancashire's dilemma, though. Seemingly cruising home at 156 for 4 in the 50th over, Glen Chapple's men lost four wickets in 29 balls. Luke Procter and Prince were removed by the left-arm seamer Harrison, while Gareth Cross and Chapple fell to the indefatigable, magnificent Graham Onions. Suddenly a first victory of the season was being snatched by one side from the other. Hogg and Shahzad, though, their strokeplay seemingly unclouded by compromise, took the visitors home.
Yet while this splendid game may in time be recalled for its late drama, the all-round exploits of Procter, and Ben Stokes's century, it should principally be accorded the title of "Onions' Match". For those who saw the Durham fast bowler perform, it no longer mattered very much what the England selectors might do on Sunday morning. The good judges know quality when they see it.
Onions took five more wickets today to finish with innings figures of 6 for 52 from 24 overs and a career-best match analysis of 11 for 95. He was fast, accurate and penetrative. He swung the ball and he seamed it. He burst through Stephen Moore's defences to remove his off stump and he then trapped Karl Brown lbw with one that kept low. None of the Lancashire batsmen played Onions with comfort, including Prince, who came to the wicket with the score on 63 for 2. But then there would be few top-order players in the world who would have coped with him, especially in these conditions. He looked an international bowler. Yet even when the match had been concluded, another cruel blow awaited Onions and his fellow bowlers, as Durham were deducted four points for a slow over rate. Durham therefore ended up losing one point from the game, while Lancashire took 19. It ain't half a bloomin' game.
After the match, the Durham coach, Geoff Cook, concurred with the suggestion that Onions was in the form of his life. "Conditions have been hugely in favour of seam bowlers generally and the games he's played in have been good wickets to bowl on," he said. "But he's exploited those conditions to take 30-odd wickets now and he's been the absolute backbone of the bowling. Good luck to him if he gets picked in the next Test match."
Onions claimed his third wicket of the day seven overs after tea when Steven Croft edged him to Scott Borthwick at third slip. Procter and Prince then put on 58 for the fifth wicket in relatively untroubled fashion, their task eased by the fact that Onions was taking a brief rest, and at that stage Red Rose supporters may have even have dallied with the notion that a straightforward win was on the cards. If so, they had probably forgotten that, as a rule, Lancashire do not do anything easily - including winning the County Championship.