Hampshire 272 and 142 for 6 (Shafayat 52*) lead Derbyshire 275 (Khawaja 71, Whiteley 57*) by 139 runs
A dozen years since they were relegated from Division One in the first year of a two-division County Championship, Derbyshire learned they had regained their place at the top table at four minutes past six, the moment at which Ben Wright hit the winning boundary for Glamorgan against Kent in Cardiff, confirming that neither themselves nor Yorkshire can now be denied promotion.
Derbyshire have never finished higher than fifth since they went down and no team has spent longer in Division Two so, naturally, the news from Cardiff prompted exuberant celebrations in the home dressing room, led by head coach Karl Krikken and captain Wayne Madsen, but the alcohol that flowed was strictly moderated with a title still at stake.
"It is a dream come true, an amazing achievement to go up with a team that has been together, in a way, for only a year and a half, since Krik became coach," Madsen said afterwards. "But the guys really, really want to win the title after leading for much of the season and we will probably have to win the game to do that, so we will have to come back focused in the morning."
A win would make Derbyshire champions regardless of what happens to Yorkshire at Chelmsford but after conceding that they owed the Glamorgan players "a drink or two" for ending Kent's chances, Madsen is not expecting Essex to do them any favours.
But Derbyshire will kick themselves if they do not win from the position they have reached. Trailing by 105 overnight with five wickets down, they suffered a major early setback when Usman Khawaja was caught behind playing loosely at Liam Dawson without adding to his overnight 71. But after an unbeaten half-century from Ross Whiteley, on his 24th birthday, helped in a stand of 63 for the eighth wicket by 22-year-old Tom Poynton, Derbyshire clawed their way to a first innings lead.
Whiteley and Poynton, like Paul Borrington and Dan Redfern, products of Derbyshire's academy, are seen to represent the new togetherness in the dressing room, and their efforts were the cue for an impressive response from the bowlers when Hampshire batted again.
Tony Palladino and Tim Groenewald, who have been stalwart performers with the new ball, sharing 98 wickets between them, accounted for both openers inside the first 10 overs as Poynton did his job behind the stumps, and while they have not been able to dislodge Bilal Shafayat, whose 151-ball unbeaten 52 was the statement of a man in search of an extended contract, they chipped away at the other end with regular success.
Mark Turner accounted for Dawson when the batsman was drawn to play outside off-stump, David Wainwright took a return catch to dismiss James Vince and claim his 43rd wicket of the season, and then Whiteley showed what he could do with the ball with his tidy left-arm seam bowling, pinning Sean Ervine plumb in front before finding the edge of Michael Bates' bat as Poynton held his fourth catch.
"It was huge for us that guys like Ross and Tom should be key players today," Madsen said. "The plan set up by the club is to bring the young Derbyshire players through and for Ross to play like that on his birthday and Tom not just today but over the last few weeks, when he has been in tough situations, has been brilliant."
For Krikken, who has been on the staff for 25 years as player, academy director and now head coach, winning promotion is a special moment, one he could compare favourably with winning the Benson and Hedges Cup as a player in 1993. "It's a good day for me, up there with the best," he said. "Obviously it is different as a coach but to see the lads' faces and the pleasure at what they've achieved is great and hopefully Derbyshire will now go from strength to strength. And credit to the chairman, Chris Grant, for making the changes that have enabled us to turn things around."
Krikken confessed to some nervous moments, not least when defeat against Kent in Canterbury last week saw the 30-point cushion they had between themselves and third place reduced to six. "We were worried after that game that it would slip away from us at the death and it would have been an injustice really because we have played the best cricket," he said. "The five games we have won have all been won by bowling sides out twice and knocking off the runs. Other sides have been given a lifeline at times by contrived finishes."
Krikken, who has witnessed much of the internal strife that has been Derbyshire's hallmark in recent years, along with their association with the wooden spoon in the Championship, it still brings a smile to reflect on a dressing room empty of prima donnas, where rows and recriminations have been banished.
"We have talked about there being no stars now but the players who have played their part have all been stars for me," he said. "It's unheard of, isn't it, to have a Derbyshire team who fight for one another rather than against one another, but these lads really get on well, there are no bad pennies. I've been in dressing rooms where there have been egos galore but these lads are happy to see one another do well.
"It will be a challenge to play in Division One and we might have to look about strengthening in some areas but these lads deserve the opportunity to see how far they can go."