Relegation completes Lancashire fall
Middlesex 446 and 305 for 9 (Rogers 86, Malan 95, Chapple 5-47) beat Lancashire 448 (Brown 78, Prince 71) and 194 (Crook 5-48, 4-72) by 109 runs
Lancashire will finish a season they entered as defending champions with relegation to Division Two, after Surrey beat Nottinghamshire on the final day at The Oval. A Lancashire win at Lord's would have set up an intriguing last game of the season against Surrey, but they were bowled out attempting a last-ditch run chase to seal their fate.
A Middlesex declaration going into tea meant Lancashire had to chase 304 runs in 39 overs. Tom Smith and Ashwell Prince began the chase with purpose, before Karl Brown and Steven Croft carried on the fight once they had departed. However, Lancashire were always going to struggle with the rate and, when they fell, the rest soon followed, with former Lancashire seamer Steven Crook claiming his best first-class figures of 5 for 48. In the end, Lancashire fell 109 runs short of living to fight another day.
The head coach, Peter Moores, was heralded for his work in securing Lancashire's first outright Championship title in 77 years and he was understandably disheartened by the way their 2012 campaign will end - potentially with only one victory to their name.
"We went in with the purpose of defending our title, but we were behind the eight-ball after two games," he told ESPNcricinfo. "We didn't pick up any momentum at all until our win against Durham but we just couldn't kick on."
"One of the challenges of our four-day game has been that it's not been easy to get many wins - five of our last six games have been rain affected. You're playing for points then. That's fine if you've already got some wins under your belt, but we needed results in the last half of the season, and we've not been able to get any. We've got to identify what we've done wrong this year and work at it during the off-season. It's not going to be easy, but it needs to be done."
Moores was also keen to stress that Lancashire would stick to their philosophy of giving young and local talent a chance, rather than looking to sign players in a bid to come straight back up.
"We made a strong call to play local lads, push them through and challenge them. With young players you get a bit of inconsistency, but you've got to take that on the chin. We've seen some results from our ethos that we're proud of - Simon Kerrigan's taken over 50 wickets this year, Karl Brown and Luke Procter are starting to really develop as batsmen, and Tom Smith is maturing into a leader. They'll be disappointed, but they need to deal with the elation of a Championship win and sadness of relegation in the same manner.
"If anything, last year's Championship win came a bit earlier than we thought - we picked up wins and momentum early on, and were able to hold on to that. But it shows the fragility of winning. It's not easy to win a County Championship. At times this year we've let ourselves down."
Captain Glen Chapple, who finished with impressive match figures of 10 for 133 was at a loss to explain the events that led to their demise.
"We've known we've been in a fight for virtually half the season," he said. "It's a reality that we've been facing, but I always felt we had the quality to pull through. It's disappointing for us as a club to go down, and for the fans.
"I think there are a lot of small things that have gone wrong this season and I think we've got to be careful and look at the things we can actually change, rather than beat ourselves up about the things we can't."
"We can definitely look ourselves in the mirror and know we've put the effort in - at times we've just lacked the quality to win those tight battles. Today we've gone toe-to-toe with a good team and there just wasn't enough time for us to create a genuine winning position."
One crumb of comfort for Lancashire and their fans is the defiant rebuttal of any retirement talk surrounding their captain, and the best bowler on show at Lord's this week. As the players emerged for lunch, Chapple was given a guard of honour. Standing ovations as he left the pitch at the close of Middlesex's innings, and then his own, followed, leading to whispers of an imminent departure from the game.
"The lads were just trying to keep their spirits up - a bit of banter, that's all. I'm not jacking this in any time soon - I'll be back next year, don't worry about that."
For Middlesex, the win pushed them up to second, though their season is now finished and results elsewhere will determine where they end up. On a day like this, it is easy to forget they have enjoyed a good season back in Division One themselves and the performances of of Toby Roland-Jones and Tim Murtagh, as well as the signing of Chris Rogers for a further two years, gives them a solid base to push for silverware next year.
In the morning, Rogers and Dawid Malan had picked up where they left off on Thursday, bringing up their century partnership in the fourth over of the day. Rogers looked to be on for a century of his own but, as with many of the batsmen who have got in on this pitch, he failed to make it count, ending the season with three centuries in the Championship and more than 1,000 first-class runs for an impressive sixth time in seven years.
Chapple did what he could, backing his spinners with four men around the bat, before taking the new ball and sharing it with Ajmal Shahzad. Malan used the pace of Shahzad and the hardness of the new cherry to sprint along to 95 but a wild hack outside off-stump to Chapple gave Cross his sixth catch of the match. One brought two, as Shahzad uprooted John Simpson's stumps, and Chapple then saw to Crook and Gareth Berg.
After the latter's dismissal, with the score on 289 for 8, Middlesex seemingly declared. The players and umpires walked towards the pavilion - some even made it inside - before they turned back around and returned to the middle, this time accompanied by Ravi Patel, the next man in. It turned out there were some crossed wires between the on-field players and the Middlesex balcony, and the umpires agreed to overlook it.
Patel lasted one ball, as Chapple claimed a second five-for. Three overs and 14 runs later, after much head scratching and looks towards the dressing room, Middlesex declared and Lancashire faced another tense run chase on the fourth afternoon to try and prolong their stay in Division One for another week. But Lord's '12 will not be remembered like Taunton '11 and Lancashire's loss is Surrey's gain.