Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket
Essex 170 (White 4-40, Taylor 4-67) beat Northamptonshire 81 (S Cook 5-21, Porter 4-31) and 45 (S Cook 5-20, Snater 4-7) by an innings and 44 runs
A trophy celebration without any trophy, at the end of a batting display without any substance, in front of a bemused Chelmsford crowd without any plans for the rest of the morning - let alone the next two days - made for a fittingly surreal season finale, as Essex routed Northamptonshire inside half-an-hour's play of the game's fourth session, to wrap up the shortest four-day County Championship fixture in history.
A grand total of 96.3 overs were required for Northants to slump to defeat by an innings and 44 runs, trumping the 109.5 overs that Kent required to beat Northants (yep, them again…) at Canterbury back in 1999 - a contest that the Daily Telegraph stated had shown "once again how low the art of batting has sunk in this country". Coming as that match did, a week after England had been beaten 2-1 in a four-match home Test series, you can read into the historical parallels what you will.
Either way, if 25 wickets on the first day had been an unseemly rush on a beautiful day for batting, then it was nothing compared to Northants' stampede for the second-day exits, as a long and draining season was wrapped up even before the pavilion clock had ticked over to 11am. Their last five wickets were harvested in the space of 33 balls, including four for seven in three overs for the previously unused Shane Snater, before Sam Cook provided the only fitting finale with his tenth of the match, extracting the relatively doughty Luke Procter for 24 - an effort which accounted for more than half of his team's total of 45, and was their only double-figure contribution.
The manner of Northants' dismissals was a dereliction from start to sub-standard finish. Saif Zaib, new to the crease overnight, started the rot by slicing his second ball to a juggling Nick Browne at fourth slip; Snater then trimmed Adam Rossington's bails for 4 before Josh Cobb, pumped with something that could be mistaken for adrenalin in his first first-class outing for two years, slapped his first ball abjectly to Michael Pepper at backward point. Tom Taylor then biffed two straight fours to give the pretence of a pulse, before scuffing a similar swipe through the line to mid-off. Three balls later, Procter too had given up the ghost, and that was the end of that.
Thereafter, it was hard to say which set of players were the most sheepish. A period of post-match milling-about culminated in a cursory photo op for the Essex squad, in front of LV= Insurance's sponsored hoarding proclaiming "Division 2 Winners 2021". No trophy, no champagne (got to be mindful of that culture review…), and no real desire to hang around either, as Dan Lawrence, Essex's stand-in captain, conceded.
"We didn't feel great taking a photo next to the Division Two board," Lawrence said. "It's not something we are actually going to celebrate. We are a club that want to be winning Division One and not winning Division Two. If you look at our record this year, we've only lost two games of cricket and will probably finish with the most points out of anyone in the country, so it doesn't feel fair that we are going to be coming seventh."
Lawrence's recent commitment to a two-year contract extension, at a stage of his career at which he could be following the current zeitgeist and naming his price at a more pecunious county, is at least proof of the hunger that still resides within the Essex dressing-room - a squad that Lawrence believes could be challenging for trophies for "up to ten years" if the core of the side can withstand the inquests into this less-than-perfect campaign. In that respect, one can only sit tight for the board elections, and see what comes to pass.
There was, on the other hand, no such mitigation for Northants, whom their newly-appointed coach John Sadler will hope have now hit rock-bottom. Sadler fronted up only 20 minutes after assuming the official duties from their outgoing legend David Ripley. The greatest coach in the club's history - the architect of their two T20 Blast titles and two Championship promotions in 2013 and 2019 - had announced his departure at the club's AGM last month, and deserved better than to watch the team that he built ship a total of 20 wickets for 126 runs, in what amounted to a minute short of four hours of crease abrogation.
"We wanted a positive approach this morning," Sadler said. "We wanted to go down fighting and put a bit of pressure on the opposition. It didn't work out."
"It is a shame that Rips' last game ended like that," Sadler added, after admitting to some emotional scenes in the visiting dressing room. "He's Mr Northamptonshire, isn't he? He'll be remembered for what he's done over 40 years for this club, rather than this past week. He's an absolute diamond of a man, and we wanted to put a fight up for him and give him a better send-off than we did. As coaching staff and players, we were disappointed in that regard."
The rest of the day at Chelmsford passed in an anti-climactic blur. A horde of local schoolchildren took over the outfield for a Kwik Cricket session, one that started significantly earlier than anticipated and culminated in the chance to trample all over Stuart Kerrison's lovingly prepared square - it'll probably have the chance to recover come April. As for Essex, the highlight of their celebrations (at least at this early hour) seemed to revolve around a penalty shoot-out in front of the home dressing room.
The night may yet culminate in a livelier after-party, not least to give Ryan Ten Doeschate - Essex's team "dad", as Lawrence movingly put it - the send-off he deserves after 19 years of service. But then again, one day after the club had said its official goodbyes, there was Tendo, first thing in the morning, traipsing off to the nets to keep his eye in, ahead of the next stage of his retirement, Netherlands' T20 World Cup campaign in the UAE next month. Such are the standards expected in and around this club - too bad they were only fleetingly required in this particular contest.