Lancashire 107 and 288 (Law 79, Arafat 4-41) beat Kent 233 and 92 (Chapple 6-40) by 70 runs
Lancashire supporters were dancing on the outfield at Aigburth after their team completed a stunning turnaround, sealing a 70-run victory against Kent to give them a serious chance of avoiding relegation. The fans haven't had much to cheer this season so their joy was understandable as Glen Chapple ripped through the visitors with a season-best of 6 for 40, bowling unchanged from the Pavilion End except for a break for lunch.
It was a remarkable finish to a fluctuating contest played on a sporting, lively surface and the game lasted just 216.5 overs. In truth it offered too much for the bowlers, especially the seamers, but that made for compelling viewing and after the weather-ravaged summer the final weeks of the season are better for it. Outgrounds, too, have a habit of throwing up fascinating matches and Lancashire will now be grateful that they have played here rather than the usually flatter Championship surfaces of Old Trafford.
The identity of Lancashire's matchwinner won't surprise many people. Chapple is the longest-surviving member of this team and was a vital cog in the successful sides of the late 1990s. Those days now seem a lifetime ago, but at least the club enter the final match of the season, against Somerset at Taunton, knowing survival is in their own hands. Depending on events at Scarborough a draw might even be enough. How quickly things can change. Two days ago Lancashire's plight was being relayed over the PA system on the east coast to the predictable cheers of the Yorkshire fans.
When Lancashire were rolled for 107 on the first day a swift demise was on the cards and when half the side were out yesterday, with a lead of just 34, the final outcome was a far-off thought. However, battling efforts down the order - notably from Chapple with 45 - extended the lead to 163 before Yasir Arafat closed the innings with three wickets in 10 balls. In the final outcome Kent's match total of 76 extras also proved crucial.
"It was a remarkable game of cricket," said cricket manager Mike Watkinson. "We lose the toss on a damp pitch, get shot out for 100, but then battled like mad and to win by 70 runs in a match like this is amazing. I'm really proud of how the players approached the game.
"We spoke that the new-ball had to work for us and had to rip the top-order out. We couldn't have them 50 for none because they bat too deep and for once everything went out way," he added. "The nature of the side with have, with the young Lancastrians, makes it very satisfying. For our guys to come up against experienced players from overseas and come out on top is a great effort."
As they had to Lancashire struck early, in the second over, when Oliver Newby bowled Joe Denly as the opener bagged a pair. Geraint Jones was again sent in at No.3, following his first-innings 91, but this time the tactic didn't pay off as he pushed tentatively against Chapple as he set about his demolition.
Robert Key lived a charmed life, watching the ball roll onto his stumps before he had scored and surviving a huge lbw appeal off Chapple, before he was given out caught behind off one that climbed. Key didn't appear thrilled by the decision and Lancashire's tails were up. Key was given a little send-off by the Lancashire supporters, who were starting to believe.
Martin van Jaarsveld escaped a close shout off Chapple when he padded up to a straight one, but then deposited Newby over deep square-leg for six. He soon lost another partner, however, when Darren Stevens was brilliantly caught by Stuart Law, low to his left, at second slip as Chapple bagged his third. Justin Kemp then drove loosely to point to hand Smith his first wicket of the innings and Lancashire's Mission Impossible was looking anything but.
Shortly after lunch Chapple's march through the order continued when he removed the key obstacle of van Jaarsveld, trapped lbw by one which came in late - a common dismissal over the three days. The lower-order couldn't be expected to succeed where the top-order failed and after a few lusty blows Arafat got an inside-edge to give Chapple his fifth. Number six came swiftly when James Tredwell provided an outside-edge to Luke Sutton and by the end the colour of Chapple's face was almost matching his hair.
Tom Smith claimed the final two, reward for a probing spell that kept the pressure on and allowed Chapple to attack. The match ended with the 14th lbw decision and Lancashire's players formed a mid-pitch huddle to celebrate a lifeline to their season. For Kent it was the familiar tale of coming up short and they are now in the relegation dogfight. Three days is clearly a long time in cricket.