Wheater and Coles provide final-day value
Lancashire 421 (Procter 66, Prince 63, Chapple 63, Kerrigan 62*, Reece 50) and 284 for 5 dec (Horton 111, Reece 65, Taylor 4-64) beat Hampshire 210 (Vince 106, Hogg 5-39) and 373 (Wheater 140, Coles 68, Kerrigan 4-97) by 122 runs
Rather like Charles II, Hampshire's batsmen took an unconscionable time a-dying on the last day of this game and rarely has a death been so entertaining. The 550 spectators who took advantage of the free admission on Saturday morning and trooped into the Trafalgar Road ground can scarcely have imagined that they would get such good value for their money.
The main cause of the fans' pleasure - and the 6,500 who attended this game over four days were not slow to applaud both sides - was a magnificently enterprising 191-run eighth wicket partnership between Adam Wheater and Matt Coles. This pair defied Lancashire's seven-man attack until an hour into the afternoon session when Wheater pushed forward to Simon Kerrigan and was caught by Gareth Cross for 140.
By then Hampshire's wicketkeeper-batsman, whose signing had so perturbed the supporters of former gloveman Michael Bates, had helped Coles break the eighth-wicket record for matches between these counties. He had also caused a number of spectators to revise their plans for Saturday afternoon as they opted to stay at the cricket in preference to trips to Tesco or journeys to the planet Ikea. You could see their point. Talk about something for nothing.
Until Wheater departed there was still some hope of a really spectacular switch of fortunes in a game which Lancashire had dominated for three days. He and Coles had put the hammer down on an attack which was lacking Lancashire skipper Glen Chapple over the course of a morning session in which 38 overs yielded 145 runs. Wheater reached his hundred in 182 balls having hit 19 fours, many of them being the shots of a pedigree batsman; a few moments later Coles's comparative restraint had helped him stroke a 101-ball fifty.
After the game Chapple talked about his team failing to keep their eye on the ball on Saturday and you could see his point: it's tough to keep a cricket ball in view when it is disappearing so rapidly in all directions. None of the Lancashire bowlers performed dreadfully but by the same token none of them looked like taking a wicket apart from Kerrigan who apparently had Coles caught off the glove when he was 15 only for Neil Bainton to turn down the appeal.
Ultimately Coles departed two balls after Wheater when his rather uncharacteristic cross-batted swipe at Luis Reece resulted in the loss of his middle stump when he had made 68. Even then, though, the vaudeville was not over for Lancashire could not celebrate the win that takes them 33 points clear of Northamptonshire at the top of the Division Two table until James Tomlinson and 16-year-old debutant Brad Taylor had added 53 runs for the last wicket in a mere seven overs.
Only when Taylor was stumped off Kerrigan for 20 could Chapple's players savour their win and by then there must have been a measure of anti-climax moderating their joy. If Lancashire bowl as anaemically and inaccurately in Division One, there are a few tough days ahead of them next summer.
Kerrigan, however, will not be worrying too much about that; he took seven wickets in this match and seemed to have got something of his old feel and rhythm back when he bowled on Saturday. Life must seem sweeter and less fraught to him than it did at The Oval just seven days ago.
At the conclusion of the game Hampshire's top order batsmen were surely regretting the spinelessness which had seen them start the fourth day on 133 for 7 with, we all thought, little for which to play. For their part, Lancashire's players will have been pleased, relieved and dissatisfied in equal measure.
But neither team's feelings nor their desire to get home on a busy Saturday prevented them thanking the Southport and Birkdale club for staging this match with such professionalism and panache. If all outgrounds did things as well as this, counties might visit them more frequently and the Test grounds might be rather emptier than they are already when four-day games attract a couple of hundred paying customers who rattle around mighty stands like midgets lost in a labyrinth.