Gurney's cover drive brings Read relief
Nottinghamshire 261 (Mullaney 82, Chapple 4-73, Smith 3-44) and 170 for 9 (Read 40*, Smith 3-38, Chapple 3-59) beat Lancashire 225 (Buttler 52, Adams 4-45) and 205 (Khawaja 53, Gurney 4-22, Fletcher 3-33) by one wicket
It was an astonishing afternoon when Lancashire found they had supporters in Leeds, a teatime when Nottinghamshire discovered temporary fans in Newcastle. Such are the transient fealties produced in the second half of the County Championship season when one team's result affects everyone else's fortunes.
When all was done, it was the Novocastrians who were celebrating on Tuesday evening after a tremendous cricket match had ended with Chris Read's team securing a nerve-shattering one-wicket victory which will live in everyone's memory utterly regardless of their loyalties.
Any relief on Tyneside or the banks of the Wear will be felt because Lancashire's defeat leaves the Old Trafford side 11 points adrift of seventh-placed Durham having played a game more. Yet the keenest joy will, of course, be felt in Nottinghamshire's cricketing heartlands like Caythorpe and Cuckney, for their county had completed a win which puts them 11 points clear of Somerset after 12 games and 16 ahead of Yorkshire, albeit that Andrew Gale's men have a game in hand.
Yet great matches also need great finishes and this contest filled that box with more ticks than one. Such matches also need a hero: this game provided many, but none more worthy of the laurels than the teak-tough Read. Needing 170 to win, Nottinghamshire were 119 for 7 when Luke Fletcher joined his skipper. The only time issue was whether the match would end on the third evening or not.
Coolly, the Nottinghamshire pair added 44 runs in 18 overs, Fletcher blocking capably and nudging singles where possible, Read batting with all the skill and nous Trent Bridge supporters know well and love greatly.
A three-wicket victory seemed very probable when Kabir Ali had Fletcher well-caught at third slip by Tom Smith. Enter Andre Adams, who can really only play in one uncomplicated way. A whacked four wide of mid-on and a skied two over Jos Buttler's head followed. Then Adams pulled his fifth ball from Ali to deep-backward square-leg, where Stephen Parry sprinted round and held a fine catch low down: 169 for 9. "When was the last tie in the Championship?" someone asked
That, though, was also the end of the over and the batsmen had crossed. Step forward Harry Gurney, who cover drove Chapple's first ball as stylishly as you like for a single. The Nottinghamshire players on the balcony of the Aigburth pavilion erupted in untrammelled joy. Who know what this win might mean in mellow September? Lancashire's players trooped off, although they may also have been contemplating the eventual results of defeat.
Read was unbeaten on 40, his runs accumulated over 117 minutes off 66 balls. "It was relief in the end," said the captain when queried as to his feelings after the game. "It should have been excitement needing only seven runs with three wickets still in the shed but in the end when Harry Gurney hit those runs I was flapping.
"Harry shouldn't have been on strike and I was not particularly happy with losing two wickets in that penultimate over. It was relief but that's the best shot I have ever seen Harry Gurney play. I'll remember that for the rest of my life."
In that respect, the Nottinghamshire skipper will be joined by the vast majority of the spectators at Liverpool, where Chapple's men have fought out so many tight finishes in recent years. Throughout the day, supporters had sat enthralled by the drama unfolding before them. Newspapers were cast aside, their crosswords barely started.
The second-hand bookstall resorted to a major sale at teatime but no one wanted to read about cricket when there was so much of it to watch. October will come soon enough. The ice-cream van did progressively less business despite the fine warm weather which had replaced Monday's tent-tugging winds. At the tensest moments a frenetic calm settled on the ground.
Yet perhaps we should not be surprised that a game between these two sides should have produced an extraordinary finish. Nottinghamshire secured their 2010 title in dramatic circumstances when they secured a bowling bonus point against Lancashire, and Chapple's men only lost April's opening match of the season at Trent Bridge by 45 runs after a noble run-chase. The teams have a history of producing toughly-contested matches and this result will have pleased nobody more than Steven Mullaney who has represented both counties.
The absorbing dénouement to this game had been set up by morning and early afternoon sessions in which Lancashire had extended their overnight 55 for 2 to 205 at the cost of their eight remaining wickets, Usman Khawaja making 53.
All but one of the wickets had been claimed by Gurney, who took 4 for 13 in 29 balls during a high-quality spell of left-arm seam bowling, and by the Brobdingnagian figure of Fletcher, who removed three batsmen in five balls immediately after lunch. A valuable last-wicket stand of 36 between Parry and Ali probably gave disproportionate encouragement to Chapple's attack but even the most imaginative and experienced cricket-watchers could not envisage the stomach-clutching tension to come.
Initially wickets were almost traded for runs in the visitors' second innings. Four of the top six batsmen reached double figures but no one made more than Riki Wessels. On a wicket which had always rewarded good cricket, Smith removed Mullaney, Michael Lumb and James Taylor to become Division One's leading wicket-taker. Nottinghamshire stumbled to 79 for 5 but had recovered to 116 for 6 when Wessels drove Hogg to Ashwell Prince at cover. The crowd tried to settle, wondering how things would turn out. They little knew.