Essex 356 for 9 dec and 359 for 5 (ten Doeschate 108*, Pettini 85*) beat Derbyshire 474 and 240 for 4 dec
With five overs left of the Championship season, Essex secured last-ditch promotion to Division One with a five-wicket victory against Derbyshire having been left a hefty, but still generous, target of 359 in 65 overs. Ryan ten Doeschate produced a destructive 59-ball 108 and Mark Pettini played a captain's innings of 85 from 94 deliveries to put Essex back in the top flight for the first time since 2003 at the expense of Northamptonshire.
However, when James Foster fell to a top-edged sweep they still needed 156 from 22 overs. Up stepped ten Doeschate and provided the injection that Essex were looking for, while Pettini remained calm throughout to play his most important innings of the season. ten Doeschate reached fifty from 35 balls and then increased his tempo further, taking 16 off an over from Graham Wagg including consecutive pulled sixes and took further sixes off Wayne Madsen and Steffan Jones.
ten Doeschate has made his name with clean-striking displays both for Essex and Netherlands, but this will go down as one of his most crucial innings. "It's certainly right up there," he said. He reached a memorable century with a flat-batted cover drive from his 57th ball - the second fifty taking just 22 deliveries - and his team-mates cheered loudly from the dressing room. His eighth six put Essex two away from their target. Promotion was then sealed when Pettini chipped a single down the ground to spark celebrations. The feeling will be very different at Wantage Road.
There will be despondency for Northamptonshire, who did all they could with an innings-and-196-run victory against Leicestershire. Eyebrows will be raised at Derbyshire's declaration, especially as there was no reason to be as generous as they had nothing to play for and knew that Essex would have to chase whatever they were set. There were a few angry Northamptonshire followers contacting local radio stations to protest that Derbyshire had given Essex the chance of overtaking them.
Pettini and Alastair Cook sent down 13 overs of gentle bowling to hasten Derbyshire towards the target although they cost a relatively modest 78 runs as the home side weren't overly aggressive. Then, 15 minutes before lunch, the declaration surprisingly arrived. If Chris Rogers' desire was to have a good game of cricket then that is to be applauded, but he shouldn't expect a particularly warm reception when Northamptonshire visit the County Ground next season.
After a brief period of attack with the new ball, all Derbyshire's slips disappeared and it turned into a one-day game as Essex milked the spinners. At the start of the chase they needed 5.52 and always had it under control. The top three provided a solid base with Tom Westley again impressing before cutting to backward point and John Maunders making 55. With 20 overs remaining they needed 138 - easy in the Twenty20 era.
That target was whittled down increasingly quickly by ten Doeschate. Essex have become the master of the final-day chase, having secured vital wins against Middlesex and, last week, against Northamptonshire before this successful pursuit. Northamptonshire will look back ruefully on that game at Chelmsford when their second innings fell apart.
The debate has started again about the merits of two divisions, but the fact that promotion wasn't decided until the final session of the season ensured the interest (although, that is a relative term) was maintained. Division Two, without the fear of relegation hanging over teams and only promotion to aim for, has produced the more attacking play this season which is one reason why some would like a return to the original format.
It does seem slightly incongruous that there is prize money for the top four sides in Division One, and then the 10th and 11th best teams in the country. But having more games that matter at the tail-end of the summer is worthwhile and the answer could lie in abolishing bonus points to make winning more vital. However, those debates can carry on over the winter and into next summer. For now Essex can reflect on a job well done, while Northamptonshire consider what might have been.