Nottinghamshire 272 (Northeast 65, Duckett 59, Clarke 54; Bailey 4-48, Lamb 4-60) and 339 for 8 declared (Moores 97, James 91, Bailey 3-84) beat Lancashire 168 (Hutton 5-62, Paterson 3-39) and 341 (Balderson 77, Lamb 68*, Wells 59, Bailey 52; Paterson 4-78, Fletcher 3-103) by 102 runs

When he was looking forward to this day with a dollop of optimism which, as things turned out, was rather misplaced, a Lancashire cricketer pointed out that Nottinghamshire possessed only three front-line seamers. Fair point, perhaps, but one wonders what that player thought at just gone 5.15 when Saqib Mahmood fended a shortish ball from Brett Hutton into the hands of Ben Slater at short leg to clinch a wonderful victory and all but one of the visitors' second-innings wickets had been taken by that trio.

Steven Mullaney will have a different perspective on matters this evening. The Nottinghamshire skipper probably knows that when you have three fast-medium bowlers of the quality of Hutton, Luke Fletcher and Dane Paterson, a fourth quickie would be under-employed. The three he currently rotates have taken his side to the top of the Division One table by 10.5 points and in 16 days' time they may help take his team to the title. Paterson's four wickets have earned him most plaudits but the three will hunt as a pack until after the equinox.

There are, though, two fascinating rounds of Championship cricket to be played before anything is known and this final day gave us some glorious portents as to the intensity those six Division One matches will probably contain. Only 11.5 overs remained when Mahmood was dismissed and that was testament to an extraordinary Lancastrian rearguard that threatened to secure a draw from an utterly unpromising situation. When Tom Bailey joined Danny Lamb just before 2.30 on this final afternoon Lancashire were 210 for 8 and had just lost three wickets in ten balls. Spectators were considering other plans for the evening. What happened next will be recorded with honour and regret in the Old Trafford Yearbook.

Bailey and Lamb defied Mullaney's attack for the next 30.1 overs with a quite remarkable display of defensive defiance. Both players reached their fifties and their stand of 108 set a new ninth-wicket record for their county in matches against Nottinghamshire beating the 112-year-old mark of 87 set by Bill Huddleston and Harry Dean at Old Trafford in 1909. Then, somewhere near the point when visiting supporters were venturing onto the quicksand of hope Bailey lost his middle stump to a ball from Paterson that tailed in and kept devilishly low. Seven overs later Hutton was racing madly towards Bridgford Road after taking the final wicket and a great game was done.

As for Lancashire, they were overpowered in many sessions of this match and there is no shame in them admitting the fact. But they are not yet out of the hunt for the title. No county is, although it would require a general collapse of Foinavon proportions to see Somerset winning the pennant. Dane Vilas' batsmen lasted until well after the arrival of the scones and they remain a tough bunch. It is quite possible to see them beating Somerset at Taunton and Hampshire at Aigburth while other, more obvious contenders scrap amongst themselves.

This, though, was Nottinghamshire's day and Nottinghamshire's match. Its centrepiece was probably the spell of ten deliveries with the new ball in which Fletcher bowled Rob Jones off the inside edge for 33 and trapped George Lavelle leg before for nought, dismissals which sandwiched Steven Croft's departure, caught at slip by Ben Duckett off Paterson for 6. At the beginning of that brief disintegration Lancashire were 210 for 5 and their chances of survival were slim; at its conclusion people were checking train times. They will have missed the early departures. This became a far closer affair than most envisaged.

Just before lunch Fletcher had taken a painful blow on the foot from a George Balderson drive and his collapse had been vaguely reminiscent of the demolition of a 1960s tower block. But just before two o'clock here he was, rumbling in like a truck down the Mansfield Road, and by the end of the match, the country's most successful bowler had 59 wickets against his name. There would be few more popular title winners.

Fletcher had also been rumbling in at half-past ten to open a first session that nailed down the coffin on any notions that Lancashire might mount a glorious pursuit of the 444 runs they needed to win. Instead, the loss of three wickets for 55 runs in 30 overs prepared us for a gloriously tense afternoon.

Nottinghamshire's hopes were emboldened in the fourth over of the morning when Paterson angled one across Wells whose tentative defensive push merely edged a catch to the diving Tom Moores. Then, having cover-driven Fletcher for a fine boundary, Josh Bohannon remained runless for 20 balls, the last of which saw him leg before to Paterson for 8 when trying to work the ball away square rather than play down its line towards mid-on. Paterson's celebrations reflected the value opponents currently place on Bohannon's wicket but Vilas's scalp is important, too, and that was taken by Hutton with nothing more than a fast straight delivery which somehow caused the Lancashire skipper to overbalance as he sought to play to leg. The ball thudded into his pad and Nick Cook wasted little time confirming the obvious.

There should have been further celebrations in the Fox Road Stand four balls into the following over when Balderson drove the ball firmly back to Liam Patterson-White but the bowler could not cling on to the two-handed chance. Encouraged by this reprieve, the 20-year-old dug in with Jones for the 40 minutes until lunch and his most violent stroke was that straight drive that caught Fletcher on the foot.

Ten overs into the afternoon session Nottinghamshire took the vital wicket of Balderson for 77 when Patterson-White bowled a rare long hop and the batsman, as though momentarily excused watchfulness, whacked it to square leg where Paterson dived to his right to take a superb catch. Having batted for 314 minutes and faced 235 balls, most of them on the spot, Balderson had fallen to a fairly rank delivery. But he had acquitted himself with honour and his stock will have risen in the Old Trafford dressing room. It will have risen at Trent Bridge, too, for this was a noble game of cricket and an honourably contested one.

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications