Nottinghamshire storm to title in thrilling finale
Lancashire 11 for 3 drew with Nottinghamshire 400 for 9 dec
In a result that seemed almost unthinkable this morning, Nottinghamshire have stormed to the County Championship title on a thrilling afternoon at Old Trafford. Needing to secure six bonus points to pull level with Somerset at the top of the table - and squeeze ahead by virtue of winning seven games to Somerset's six this season - Nottinghamshire edged their way to the 400 runs required to secure a vital fifth batting point, with the tenth-wicket pair of Darren Pattinson and Ryan Sidebottom, in what could be his final game for the county, putting together 10 runs in 5.1 overs fraught with tension.
Having declared, Nottinghamshire were left needing three wickets in 15 overs in order to secure the title, and Sidebottom soon came to the fore with the ball, snaffling Mark Chilton before Andre Adams' double-strike sparked wild celebrations at Old Trafford. With Somerset settling for a draw at Chester-le-Street after quick wickets had put paid to their hopes of chasing down 181 in 17 overs, Nottinghamshire went into the final hour of the Championship campaign knowing exactly what they needed to do to secure the title. It took less than five overs, at the end of a long and arduous season, for a pumped-up Sidebottom and Adams to get them there.
Sidebottom struck first as Karl Brown edged his eighth ball to Alex Hales at first slip. Though Brown might have left the delivery alone, in the next over Mark Chilton could do nothing about his dismissal as he got a feather on an unplayable delivery from Adams. Adams has been Nottinghamshire's stand-out bowler in their Championship campaign, and he then struck for the 68th time and final time, having Shivnarine Chanderpaul caught by Samit Patel at third slip, to set the champagne corks popping.
Nottinghamshire's other option going into the final day had been to persuade Lancashire to forfeit an innings and set them a gettable total to chase this afternoon. Ultimately, however, their victory was hard-fought as they were given no quarter by Lancashire and it took a special partnership between Adam Voges and Samit Patel to push them towards the magic 400-mark.
There would have been some frayed nerves in their dressing room during Sidebottom and Pattinson's partnership, but the fact that Nottinghamshire got that close at all was thanks largely to Voges and Patel's 153-run stand for the fifth wicket, which came before Simon Kerrigan ran through a nervous lower order to pick up 5 for 80.
After a delayed start at 11.35am with 80 overs to be bowled after the players took the field in bright sunshine, the onus was on scoring quickly from the start. There was no sign of declaration bowling from Lancashire, with Tom Smith and Gary Keedy starting proceedings, but without being overtly reckless Voges and Mark Wagh managed to score at better than a run a ball almost from the first over of the morning.
Sajid Mahmood replaced Smith at the Stretford End and his extra pace soon brought about a breakthrough as Wagh jabbed at an inswinger from the crease and had his stumps pegged back. Ali Brown looked to have settled, putting together 28 with Voges in good time, but fell on the stroke of lunch as Mahmood slanted one in to strike him above the left knee roll.
The signs that Nottinghamshire would try to press on quickly after the interval were soon apparent, as Voges started aggressively by thrashing Mahmood to the cover boundary to go to his half-century. Soon after he charged out of his crease and clipped Keedy to the straight midwicket boundary to take Nottinghamshire past 200 - and their first batting point.
Voges was on hand once again to secure another point when he took Nottinghamshire past 250 in partnership with Patel. Patel, who once again demonstrated the natural stroke-maker that has left England so frustrated by his fitness issues, eased to a rapid half-century from 60 balls and soon after brought up the century stand - from 117 balls - with a wristy cut through backward point.
As Nottinghamshire neared 300 Voges and Patel upped the tempo noticeably, both using their feet to seamers and spinners alike and appearing unafraid to hit the ball in the air. Voges came down the track and bunted Keedy to long-on to register his first hundred for Nottinghamshire, and despite his head start, Patel rapidly caught up with him and had already reached 91 by the time he had gone to his ton. But he would not follow Voges to the landmark, falling in the pursuit of quick runs as he lofted Kerrigan to Kyle Hogg at long-off to depart for a 91-ball 96 that included 11 fours and a six.
Kerrigan removed Chris Read and Steven Mullaney in quick succession, but with Nottinghamshire just 10 runs short of their 400-target and with two wickets in hand, Adams missed a wild mow into the leg side to be bowled by Kerrigan - the spinner's fifth wicket. Then came Sidebottom and Pattinson's vital stand, and Nottinghamshire declared their innings immediately after reaching the 400-mark to leave them 15 overs to push for the title.
Despite Nottinghamshire's fears that they would have to engage in horse-trading and negotiations in order to force a result in this game, ultimately they secured the title under their own steam and finished as deserved champions in a truly breathless finale to the county season.
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo