Middlesex 39 for 6 (Bailey 5-16) trail Lancashire 259 (Livingstone 84, Croft 55*, Sowter 3-42, Harris 3-59) by 220 runs
At just after 4.30 on the first day of this game at Emirates Old Trafford Adam Rossington was caught by Alex Lees for 82 off the bowling of Matt Salisbury. The dismissal took place at Wantage Road, which is 135 miles from Emirates Old Trafford, but news travels fast in cyberspace and it confirmed what had long been virtually certain in any case: that Lancashire would end this season as the champions of Division Two. Northamptonshire's haul of one bonus point, combined with the two Dane Vilas's side picked up in their first innings against Middlesex, decided the matter.
Lancashire knew they had won the division after they had posted 259 but before they went out to bowl. They celebrated not by larking around but by ripping the heart out of Middlesex's batting and reducing the visitors to 39 for 6 by the close. Ripper-in-Chief was Tom Bailey, whose accurate medium-quick bowling with all the variations of his craft helped him take five wickets in 24 balls and finish with 5 for 16 from nine overs with power to add on the morrow. Nick Gubbins and Dawid Malan were caught behind; Martin Andersson and Miguel Cummins were lbw; Max Holden was brilliantly caught and bowled, low to Bailey's left. If Vilas scorns the current fashion and opts to enforce the follow-on, a two-day finish cannot be discounted. This is a pitch which repays tight lines and it was the failure of the Middlesex attack to string enough good balls together that partly explains the strife they are in now.
To be sure, Lancashire's Liam Livingstone batted well for his 84 and would have got a century had he not fallen lbw when playing across the line to a ball of full length from Ethan Bamber; Steven Croft then played cannily with the tail and scored the fourth first-class fifty of what has been a lovely season for him. But both batsmen knew that if they gutsed it out long enough, a half-volley or a wide long hop would come along in due course. Not many, mark you; this Middlesex attack had Lancashire 129 for 5 when Vilas pushed all too firmly at Cummins and edged to Malan at slip for a duck. But there were enough loose ones to sustain the batsmen's patience and Lancashire's ability to double that total may well have decided this match.
The reaction of Lancashire's supporters to their side's success could be gauged almost immediately. Old Trafford's PA announcer, John Gwynne, is still a newsman to his fingertips and he announced the side's success to the crowd. There was a warm round of applause although warmth of a slightly different nature may be apparent at the Members' Forum which is being held after today's play. We shall see; or rather, we shall hear.
But what even the most stubborn curmudgeon surely cannot doubt is that Lancashire have been by far the best side in Division Two this year. They rested Richard Gleeson for this match and have not been able to call on James Anderson since the game against Durham at Sedbergh. But their seam attack is the equal of any in Division One. Their young batsmen, most obviously Josh Bohannon and Rob Jones, are improving with every month. Yes, this is Lancashire's third promotion in seven seasons. Yet they can go up with greater optimism than in any of the others.
And on a day when one issue was finally resolved it was curious to recall the occasion in April when these sides last met in the Championship, nothing at all was decided and optimism was on tap at all counties. That game took place at Lord's in April and a few saw it as a top of the table clash in the first fortnight of the season. Well, so much for hubris. Northamptonshire and Gloucestershire have a short way with such careless arrogance. Lancashire won that game and did so partly because Jones made a patient century.
But another Lancashire batsman also reached three figures at Lord's and batted outstandingly well. That, of course, was Haseeb Hameed, who was released by Old Trafford last month. Hameed's hundred against Middlesex was thus his last for the county of his birth. It is sometimes difficult to accept such simple facts; and for those who saw the young batsmen in the wonderful springtime of his career, it is even more poignant this autumn to write them down and know them for the truth.