Lancashire secure Division Two title
Lancashire 310 for 8 dec (Procter 106, Smith 88, Gidman 5-61) and 195 for 2 (Reece 97, Horton 55) drew with Gloucestershire 209 (Smith 4-49, Newby 4-71)
Lancashire will have to wait for the coup de grace of their season after a tame draw at Bristol but the champagne moment arrived in a literal sense as they lifted the Division Two title.
It was also a sunny September day in the west country when Lancashire won the Championship two years ago. But while the celebrations at Taunton were exhilarating after an achievement the club had been waiting 77 years for, here, 50 miles up the M5, they toasted relief at easily dealing with a potentially tricky year.
"The season has panned out really well for us, winning a league is no easy thing to do," Lancashire captain Glen Chapple said. "There are some good teams and we've had some really good games of cricket but we've got to be really proud of the cricket we've played virtually the whole way through.
"We started off a little bit slow and then came on really strong. The Glamorgan game set us off but to win the league so convincingly were the two wins against Northants and the two wins against Essex. They were double-point games against the next two top teams.
"We've grown as a team, we've had young players pushing for places and proving themselves and it looks great for the future. The experience of winning a trophy will be great for us and will help us kick on next year."
Lancashire have been comfortably the best side in the division - their nearest challengers, Northamptonshire, were swept aside twice by eight wickets - and, like Yorkshire in 2012, provided a stark reminder of the gulf between the two divisions of the County Championship. Confirmation of second-placed Northants' draw with Kent ensured Lancashire couldn't be caught.
It hasn't been a vintage year by any means. Their batting line up has disappointed and changes were needed after poor returns from the likes of Paul Horton, Stephen Moore and Karl Brown, who all excelled in the Championship winning season. And without overseas signing Simon Katich, who made 1,097 runs at 73.13 over 12 matches, Lancashire may have struggled to mount a promotion challenge.
Lancashire are keen to bring Katich back for 2014 and he will make a decision following the Champions League T20, where he went to play for Perth Scorchers and missed the end of the county season. But Katich has been offered a job by AFL franchise Greater Western Sydney and he may choose to secure his future in Australia.
Katich's runs and the less-intense nature of Division Two cricket have allowed Lancashire to promote younger players and the experience gained by Andrea Agathangelou, who has played 10 matches this season, and especially Luis Reece, second in the Lancashire averages, will provide them with more options back in Division One.
Reece is an attractive strokemaker, who is very good off his legs and has an air of Alastair Cook about him. He made brisk progress on the final afternoon as Lancashire batted out for a draw and accelerated after tea in pursuit of a maiden century for Lancashire. But trying to flick David Payne to leg, he was bowled for 97 and the match ended with a tinge of disappointment. Reece will be back for more, though, and may have played himself onto the England Lions squad.
While the batting order has developed this season, the bowling unit has needed plenty of wickets from 39-year-old Glen Chapple. Should Chapple be unfit to play next season, Lancashire will have a giant hole to fill. Only one other seamer - Kyle Hogg with 60 wickets - has made an impact this season. It is of course not Lancashire's fault they have only needed two seamers but they will be disappointed no-one else has had the chance to come through.
But perhaps that isn't too much of a concern, with former Zimbabwe quick Kyle Jarvis ready to make his debut. Jarvis turned his back on international cricket to sign a Kolpak deal with Lancashire and is likely to make his first appearance at Kent, with Chapple expected to miss the final fixture.
"He's very keen to get started and show us what he can do," Chapple said. "He's already a proven performer but I'm sure he wants to prove himself for us. He's a really exciting signing."
They hope Tom Smith - who took four wickets on the final morning - will develop into the allrounder he has threatened to become. He was left out at the start of the season and then struggled with injury but since returning to the Championship XI has averaged 53.20 with the bat and 21.55 with the ball.
Smith's wickets had Gloucestershire scrambling on the fourth morning to save the follow-on. Having moved into a comfortable position at 132 for 3, they collapsed losing 6 for 23 in 12.3 overs. It took a run-a-ball 26 from Matt Taylor, in his first innings in a first-class match, to avert what would have been a considerable embarrassment. He and Payne dashed up a 10th wicket stand of 54 in 53 balls to give their side a most-unexpected batting point.
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo