Advantage Middlesex as fitting finale looms

Lancashire 259 (Jones 106*, Livingstone 56, Bailey 53, Roland-Jones 4-54, Finn 4-71) and 80 for 1 drew with Middlesex 327 (Robson 77, Gubbins 69, Compton 56, Kerrigan 4-80, Jarvis 3-70) and 240 for 8 dec (Malan 87, Simpson 74, Kerrigan 6-86)

And so it will not be settled - or anything like settled - for another week. A season in which Middlesex have led, Yorkshire have loomed and Somerset have scarcely been mentioned will end with the three counties covered by ten points. The world's most famous cricket ground and one of the best in the land will together stage the final dramas of this late, late summer. What have we done to deserve this? Clearly, something good.

Any thoughts this game might end with a victory for either side were extinguished by the strength of both sides' batting and the understandable conservatism of skippers who were content to take five points for the draw. Such a return leaves Middlesex nine points ahead of Yorkshire and ten clear of Somerset.

All the points permutations can wait for the back of an envelope and a double espresso. It is enough for the moment to say that if the leaders avoid losing to Yorkshire at Lord's and Somerset fail to beat Nottinghamshire at Taunton, Middlesex will be champions and worthy ones. Their evisceration of Yorkshire on the last day at Scarborough proclaimed their quality. But the destination of the pennant far from settled.

The cricket on this final day of the season at Old Trafford was only briefly exciting but always absorbing. Some shots, some moments will be remembered fondly by spectators watching their final first-class overs of the year. Dawid Malan and John Simpson batted with great certainty throughout the morning and had extended their partnership to 151 when Malan played a half-hearted cut at Simon Kerrigan and was caught by Jos Buttler for 87.

That wicket was the prelude to three more in five overs as Middlesex established a lead of 308 before declaring. Simpson was the last of these but he had made a fine 74 before he swayed like a drunk avoiding a bicycle and lost his leg stump to Luke Procter. Kerrigan finished the innings with 6 for 86 - and ten in the match - which is something to encourage him before Lancashire's final game at Edgbaston next week.

Indeed, this was the first morning of autumnal haze at Old Trafford. It was burned off quite quickly, of course, but there was still a September note of gentle closure. And very briefly, we wondered if the finale to the season was to be accompanied with drums and yells as Lancashire responded to the stern challenge of scoring 309 in 44 overs by opening with Buttler.

Three fours and a scooped six heightened the frisson of excitement but a leading edge off Steven Finn looped a dolly to Nick Compton at cover and Buttler was gone for 26. Hameed replaced him and Lancashire's dash for victory was run. Spectators settled into their last cricket of the summer and some of them will have stored images away as one might with sustenance for the winter.

The game ended with Hameed tucking Rayner to long leg and scampering two runs. It was only right that he should score the last first-class runs on the ground this season. The match ended with handshakes at half past four in the poignant elegies of departure. There is a week to go but Lancashire are 14 points clear of Hampshire near the bottom of Division One. Should they secure a draw against Warwickshire next week, they have as great a chance of staying up as the new hotel does. Given their recent record and the youth of their side, they will class survival as something of an achievement.

For we are at the stage of the season when accomplishment comes in many guises. Middlesex, Yorkshire and Somerset will be happy with only the title; Lancashire Warwickshire and Hampshire must hope to retain their status although Ian Bell's team will want to preface that subdued success by lifting the Royal London Cup. We have eight days left in the season and some fine hurrahs before the drawing down of blinds.