A chasm opens after Lancashire win
Lancashire650 for 6 dec (Prince 257*, Croft 156, Buttler 87, Smith 79) beat Northamptonshire 180 (Levi 59, Chapple 5-51, Smith 4-26) and 270 (Hall 50*, Kerrigan 4-76, Smith 3-56) by an innings and 200 runs
Rather like the Anglican Church, cricket is liberally bedecked with rituals which delight true believers but enrage heretics.
On the fourth day of this game, players, umpires, groundstaff and spectators trooped dutifully, nay, happily back to Old Trafford in the all but certain knowledge that, given reasonable weather, Lancashire would beat Northamptonshire, very probably by a wide margin.
Just half an hour into a rather lovely midsummer morning, Azharullah attempted to hit Simon Kerrigan to Chorlton but only succeeded in skying the ball on the leg side. Paul Horton ran round from slip to take the catch and end the game. The word had become flesh and it dwelt amongst us.
Lancashire absolutely outclassed Northamptonshire for all but an hour of this Division One match. Realistically, only rain could have prevented a home victory on the final morning and it is difficult to imagine any other sporting event in which the result could be changed by the fact that it was pouring down. But then, as Jed Bartlet says in the Season One Finale of The West Wing, "I'm an educated man, Charlie, but when someone tries to explain cricket to me, all I want to do is hit him in the head with a teapot."
Tea was probably not the drink of choice in the Lancashire dressing room at the conclusion of this game. Despite the earliness of the hour Glen Chapple and his players more than likely had bottles of something a trifle stronger in their hands as they roared out their team song with a tunelessness that would have repelled the X Factor judges as they sat across in The Point, waiting for the next batch of wannabees to flounce through the door.
However, one could understand the relief of the home players: this was Lancashire's first win since they had defeated Northamptonshire at Wantage Road back in April. Their performances had shown more spine recently but you do not get points for backbone.
Once Kerrigan had snared Graeme White lbw on the front foot with the seventh ball of the morning and Azharullah had finished whacking Kerrigan for two sixes and two fours, Chapple's men could look at the Division One table and see that they are now just a couple of points behind Sussex and five shy of Warwickshire. Lancashire will travel to Taunton for Sunday's four-day game comforted by the fact they are back in touch with the pack.
Things are not remotely so happy for Stephen Peters and his Northamptonshire players, who now trail eighth-placed Lancashire by 68 points. With half their season gone, that is not a gap; it is an almost unbridgeable chasm, and if Peters keeps himself and his team together over the next two months it will be something of an unsung achievement. Having celebrated a wonderful 2013 when they won promotion and the Friends Life t20, the Wantage Road players have now to cope with a summer in which almost everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.
They look to be dealing with their woes pretty well at the moment. Despite the fact that only three of them would be involved in today's cricket, the whole squad went through their pre-match warm-ups on the Old Trafford outfield this morning. Everyone seemed to be getting along fine. Well, put it this way: they managed to play football without biting each other.