Lancashire 309 (McLaren 75, Bailey 58, Murtagh 6-63, Harris 4-119) and 111 for 2 (Hameed 38*, Croft 34*) beat Middlesex 180 (Simpson 53*, Clark 3-36, Mahmood 3-63) and 236 (Malan 52, Parry 5-45, McLaren 3-48) by eight wickets
Lancashire and Middlesex's cricketers reported back for pre-season training last November. A few weeks later, officials at Southport and Birkdale CC heard they would be hosting this game against the champions, which ended in mid-afternoon on the final day when Steven Croft's straight six off Ravi Patel completed an eight-wicket victory over the champions. It was Middlesex's first defeat since they lost to Worcestershire in September 2015.
So for four June days these three groups of people, all of them professional in their particular ways, have been joined in closely-related endeavours: one of them in preparing to stage a cricket match, the other two in competing against each other to win it. And thus we have a link between Bev Baybutt's careful editing of the programme for this match and Stephen Parry's maiden five-wicket haul in Championship cricket and, indeed, his first such return in the first-class game for a decade.
It was Parry's two wickets late on the fourth morning which ensured that Lancashire would need only 108 to win. Until those final breakthroughs, there seemed a chance that Tim Murtagh and Toby Roland-Jones' shrewd hitting would set Lancashire a target in excess of 150. But Murtagh ventured cautiously down the pitch only to be stumped by Alex Davies for 27 and Roland-Jones swung across a straight one and was leg before for 31.
Davies walked rather proudly off the field knowing that only Warren Hegg among Lancashire wicketkeepers had completed more dismissals in a match than the ten he had managed at Southport; on the stroke of lunch, he cut a rather more disappointed figure after he had been caught by John Simpson off Roland-Jones for 13 but one doubts he lunched on water-biscuits and self-pity. Liam Livingstone was the only other Lancashire batsman to lose his wicket and he had the consolation of knowing that he had been selected for England's T20 squad. Haseeb Hameed helped himself to 104 minutes' batting practice and made a pleasingly serene 38 not out, the sort of innings that suggests big runs are not far away. Within an hour of the game ending, Paul Parker and his battalion of workers were stacking the chairs they had so carefully set out less than a week ago. Lindsey Bridge's tremendous alliums were still blooming but there were only a few spectators left on the ground to admire such floral delights.
No one could doubt the justice of the result of this game. If Middlesex had replaced their suspicious glances at the pitch with a little more tenacity, they might have scored more than the 180 they managed in the first innings; if they had bowled with better lines and lengths Lancashire may not have replied with 309. Resuming on 156 for 6 on the final morning, the visitors lost their overnight batsmen, Dawid Malan and James Harris, to effort balls from Ryan McLaren which bounced more than the batsmen expected. Both were caught at the wicket, Malan when attempting to play no shot at all. Those reverses left the responsibility for building a defendable total in the hands of Roland-Jones and Murtagh; they did what they could in typically aggressive fashion and Glen Chapple admitted that his players were getting "a little twitchy". Parry settled their nerves and left Chapple praising the way his whole team had responded to their ten-wicket towsing at Headingley.
This result will be a fillip to Lancashire's players as they prepare to meet Hampshire at Emirates Old Trafford; Middlesex's next match is at home to Yorkshire, which should bring back some happy memories for them. Before long Southport and Birkdale will return to being a club ground once again, although the members will retain warm memories of the 2017 game, albeit that such recollections will not be so precious as those they cherish in their hearts of Durham's visit last year.
In December, pied wagtails will be scuttering along the outfield in the gathering dusk; trains laden with Christmas presents will be rattling into Birkdale station; and the lights in Dover Road will stretch away in the winter darkness. And on one morning in that month S&B's indefatigable chairman, Tony Elwood, will be told which county will be visiting his ground in 2018.
Outground cricket is threatened when it should be encouraged. For many it remains a precious feature of the English season, something which no other sport can match. The game is taken back to a few of the clubs who produce the players. It remains, as Philip Larkin wrote of the Bellingham show in 1958, "something people do, / Not noticing how time's rolling smithy-smoke / Shadows much greater gestures; something they share / That breaks ancestrally each year into / Regenerate union. Let it always be there."