Lancashire 219 (Bohannon 94) and 356 for 6 declared (Davies 86, Jennings 81, Balderson 61*; Lamb 50*) beat Derbyshire 195 (Hosein 84) and 202 (Reece 69, McKiernan 52, Morley 4-62, Lamb 3-12, Hartley 3-79) by 178 runs
This was one of those days when watching first-class county cricket on an outground is just about the best thing on earth. Some of us have always maintained this to be true, of course, but when the sun first dappled and then enriched the Aigburth beeches and Derbyshire's batsmen battled against perhaps the youngest attack Lancashire have ever fielded, our case was surely made nem. con.
The afternoon offered us September's gentle, generous warmth and it brought particular joy to the slow left-armers, Tom Hartley and Jack Morley, who eventually shared seven wickets in Derbyshire's second innings to hand Lancashire a 178-run victory. Yet it was also heartening that Derbyshire's last three batsmen made the home bowlers sweat for their spoils: there was less than half an hour left in the game when Mattie McKiernan's 130-minute innings of 52 was ended by Steve O'Shaughnessy's raised finger in answer to Danny Lamb's appeal. It was McKiernan's maiden half-century but you can be certain he would have swapped it for the draw.
On Tuesday evening the headlines had been dominated by the possibility of the ECB changing the regulations for the Bob Willis Trophy should teams finish equal on points. What was allotted rather less attention was the argument that Derbyshire's chances of winning this game and thereby achieving such parity were remote in the extreme. That prospect receded even further with Dane Vilas's decision to bat on this morning and to extend Lancashire's lead to 381 before declaring. Danny Lamb used the long handle to good effect, reaching his maiden first-class fifty off 49 balls and by the time Derbyshire's openers came out to begin the game's last innings the main discussion revolved around whether the visitors could avoid defeat and go through a first-class season unbeaten for the first time since 1874. It transpired they couldn't.
Derbyshire's pursuit - if pursuit it ever was - got off to a woeful start. Lamb slanted one across Billy Godleman and the visiting captain departed much as he had done in the first innings: caught in the slips when pushing a little across the line. Four overs later Lamb brought one back to Wayne Madsen and Graham Lloyd decided it was not doing too much to miss leg stump.
Luis Reece and Leus du Plooy shepherded the innings to 56 for 2 at lunch and batted with relative restraint for an hour on the resumption. Vilas brought on his spinners and du Plooy cover-drove Hartley for successive boundaries when he overpitched. The contest was never less than keen and one sensed that both young bowlers were gaining in knowledge with every over they bowled. It was an afternoon when a man might think himself young again and once more 'prince of the apple towns', the figures in white making the hours memorable even as the season slipped away.
Then Derbyshire lost the match in little more than half an hour, their extraordinary decline beginning in an incident-crammed 41st over bowled by Morley. Off the first ball Reece, who was well set on 55, went down on one knee and clumped the ball over midwicket for six. The third and fifth balls were reverse-swept to the boundary but the opener then attempted an orthodox sweep to the final delivery and top edged a catch to Keaton Jennings at slip.
For a while batsmen came and went like drivers collecting car park tickets. Du Plooy played all around a low full toss from Hartley and was leg before; Fynn Hudson-Prentice was beaten by a well-flighted delivery from the same bowler and nicked a catch to Jennings; Matt Critchley played down the soft fruit aisle only to find the spinning ball was in chocolate and biscuits. Morley thus collected his second wicket and later picked up his third when Harvey Hosein went back fatally. By then, Anuj Dal had also been leg before to Hartley, although there was a suspicion he'd hit it. Derbyshire had lost six wickets for 17 runs in little more than nine overs.
All this drama lacked was the appreciation of a crowd. The live streams have been invaluable this season but they are one-way media. One notices the absence of loyal spectators, their smiles, their applause and, yes, their grumbles. There would have been joy from home supporters when Hartley and Morley were running through Derbyshire but also appreciation for the determination shown by McKiernan and Sam Conners in a 36-over stand which bridged the tea interval. McKiernan hit eight boundaries but eventually shut up shop; his partner, by contrast, had never been open for business.
With forty minutes left in the game - Lancashire would have bowled something like 100 overs had the innings run its full length - Conners went back to Morley and thereby became his fourth victim of the innings. By then the trees on Beechwood Road, which had been dark and shadowed in the early morning, carried the sunlight of early evening. Lancashire's players shouted in hope at almost every thick edge and traces of impatience were showing before McKiernan became Lamb's third wicket of the innings, thus giving him match figures of seven for 72; they are the best of his career and it suddenly seemed a long time since he had completed that rapid fifty in the opening overs of the day. Having made certain they could not lose the game, Lancashire had duly succeeded in winning it and no one was asking about a late declaration when they interviewed the young spinners, their faces shining with the sweat of triumph.
The cricketers are gone now and Aigburth has been made ready for other matches. Suddenly there is that soft melancholy that accompanies the final month of any cricket season. Yet the sight of Morley and Hartley and McKiernan playing with such passion and skill offered us portents of next spring and we are blessed in this of all summers that we have had so much to remember and enjoy afresh.
Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications