Chris Read savours an incredible day
Lancashire 11 for 3 drew with Nottinghamshire 400 for 9 dec
For three soggy days at Old Trafford, Nottinghamshire's quest for the County Championship - the blue riband event of the English season - looked like ending in the most miserable of anticlimaxes, as they were limited to 28 overs by a combination of rain and, perversely, dazzlingly bright sunshine. But then, on an epic fourth and final day, with their target being six bonus points and some good fortune up north at Chester-le-Street where Somerset were themselves scenting victory, the team seized upon its final chance for glory, and surged to the title in a magnificent allround display of attacking and determined cricket.
"We sort of knew what we had to do this morning," said Nottinghamshire's Man of the Match, Adam Voges, who anchored Nottinghamshire's bid for maximum batting points with a gutsy 126, and shared in a momentum-seizing fifth-wicket stand of 153 with Samit Patel, who made 96. "We thought that bonus points was probably our best chance of winning the Championship, so it was just a case of getting a good start. Samit played beautifully through the middle, and I'm delighted to have made a contribution in such a big game."
The drama of Nottinghamshire's points-hunt was two-fold. Firstly, they suffered a late collapse with the all-important total of 400 in sight, as four wickets fell for 37 to leave them teetering on 390 for 9 with only the Nos. 10 and 11, Ryan Sidebottom and Darren Pattinson, at the crease. Had either man been dismissed short of the mark, Nottingham would have had to pursue an improbable six wickets in the final hour of the game, but such was their collective determination, even that scenario could not have been entirely ruled out.
"We had to have some positive thoughts," said Nottinghamshire's captain, Chris Read. "We knew we had to go one way or another to get the requisite points. Last night a lot of senior players had a meal and discussed what to do and some of the guys said 'let's go out, bash 400 and take three wickets', but I don't think any of us thought it would be the easiest day's play. What an incredible day it turned to be."
Read admitted that his team's last-ditch plans had seemed doomed at the start of the day, as a wet outfield caused yet another delay to the match, with play finally getting underway at 11.35am. "This morning we were devastated because we'd decided to go for 400, but then we couldn't start on time so we thought that would scupper our plans, and we'd have to use the other route [of a deal with Lancashire]. But on balance we thought this was our best route."
As things turned out, the title was sealed with some panache, as Andre Adams and Sidebottom bagged the three vital wickets in just 4.4 overs of Lancashire's innings. For Adams, the decisive dismissal of Shivnarine Chanderpaul was the 68th wicket of his Championship season, and Read was understandably effusive afterwards.
"Andre Adams, I couldn't heap enough praise on him," he said, "and whenever Ryan Sidebottom has been with us, he has been a fantastic asset. That was the part I was most confident about, that if we got 16-18 overs at them we'd get three wickets. But the 400 side, having not set foot on the park for three days, I had no idea what the pitch would play like. The way Adam Voges and Samit Patel put together that middle partnership was unbelievable."
Nevertheless, the most crucial partnership of the day was arguably that between Sidebottom and Pattinson at the end of Nottinghamshire's innings. The tenth-wicket pair held firm for 5.1 overs as Lancashire's bowlers, led by Simon Kerrigan, attempted to wreck their season. "It was more nerve-wracking getting those 10 runs," admitted Pattinson afterwards. "Me and [Ryan] thought we can't get out slogging here."
"It was a good effort," added Sidebottom. "We talked between every ball and said keep going and stay out as long as possible for those 10 runs, even if it left us with only 12-14 overs [to bowl], because that would give us the best chance to take three wickets."
Sidebottom is expected to find a new county for the 2011 season, having come to the end of his Nottinghamshire deal, and while he wouldn't be drawn on his next move, he was grateful for the opportunities he had enjoyed since moving from Yorkshire in 2003. "If it is [my last game], I've gone out in style," he said. "The club's been amazing, and without them I wouldn't have played many more games for England, so I owe them a big thank you, whether it's my last game or not."
Meanwhile, up at Chester-le-Street, there was no consolation for the runners-up, Somerset, who had been in pole position throughout the final round, but whose quest for a maiden Championship title will now be extended into yet another season.
"It's gutting, with it being our first we realise how special it will be when we finally get there," said Somerset's captain, Marcus Trescothick. "To get so close - level on points - is so tough but we'll just have to wait another year now. It's terrible. It's something that will live with us for a long, long time. To know we were so close, touching distance to the trophy, but so far away when Nottinghamshire got that third wicket."