Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
Lancashire 274 for 8 (Lamb 86*, Lenham 4-59) beat Sussex 270 for 9 (Head 56, Carter 55; Hurt 3-55)
On evenings like this, which are rich beyond easy measure, one wonders why the incomparable game seems periodically determined to tear itself to tatters. On evenings like this, when Lancashire have contrived to win a match they'd all but lost, one wonders why people patronise or disrespect the Royal London Cup. Nobody was guilty of such insult at Sedbergh today. On evenings like this, when pride is fighting a battle with disappointment in the hearts of the Sussex players, one wonders why it is thought foolish to give young cricketers their chances to succeed and, yes, fail.
But then evenings like this do not come around too often. And, of course, there is nowhere in the world like Sedbergh…
For sitting on the boundary of this sacred space it is difficult to think ill of our world. And for those lucky enough to play here no task is beyond them. Just ask Danny Lamb…
But first, consider, if you will, these two enormous bowls. The first is built almost entirely of concrete and glass and is situated in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham. It is an intimidating place, especially during Ashes Tests or short-format games; a stadium conducive to fervour; a harsh arena, especially since its redevelopment just over a decade ago. Our second bowl has taken rather longer to emerge. Sedbergh's Cricket Field is ringed by the Howgill Fells, the seeds of whose formation can be dated back to the Paleoproterozoic era, somewhere between 160 and 250 million years ago. This can also be a harsh land on winter mornings when snow-covered Crook defies ascent but not on white-wisped afternoons such as this when Baugh Fell wore all the browns and purples a bounteous God might devise and Winder stood proud and green against a blue dome.
So much, so worlds apart. Yet on this fourth Friday in July both these grounds staged fine cricket matches and does not that simple truth suggest that it is time we put aside damaging Brexitesque enmities and instead marvelled at a game that could incorporate the raucous brevity at Edgbaston and the slower but unimaginably rewarding rhythms at Sedbergh?
Certainly the large crowd that filled this endlessly enriching ground seemed more than content as they saw this match unfold. And by the conclusion of what became a wonderful struggle mere content had become rhapsody, particularly for home supporters, as Lancashire recovered from 115 for 7 to beat Sussex by two wickets, thanks substantially to Lamb, whose 69-ball 84 not out brought deep-throated roars from the spectators ringing this starkly gorgeous arena.
A Lancashire win had hardly seemed possible, let alone likely, when Archie Lenham marked his 17th birthday by dismissing George Lavelle and Rob Jones in the space of four balls in the 27th over. That left the home side needing 156 to win and all they had on their side was time. So Lamb and Tom Bailey pushed the singles, drove the occasional four, saw off the leg-spinners, Lenham and Will Beer, and refused to put the hammer down until 102 runs were needed from the final ten overs. They were determined, in other words, to take it deep.
This thoughtful approach was not surprising. Lamb proved his batting ability when he made a Championship century at Canterbury in April and Bailey has five first-class half-centuries to his credit. What was more remarkable was the pair's smooth transition to outright attack with both batters hitting a couple of sixes before Bailey was stumped off the impressive Lenham for 45 to end the 112-run partnership, Lancashire's highest for the eighth wicket in List A cricket.
Liam Hurt joined Lamb and proved a reliable compadre as the game reached its climax. Sussex brought back the seamers who, nearly three hours earlier, had reduced Lancashire to 19 for 3. But the game was nearly gone. Lamb lifted both Henry Crocombe and Joe Sarro for sixes before Hurt drove the boundary that completed the victory with six balls to spare. Cheers echoed round the fells and they followed a sweat-covered Lamb into the Knowles Pavilion. Only a brave man would tell any of those voicing their delight that this was a development competition, that its results don't matter or that they were playing second fiddle to anything at all.
And anyone wishing to dispute the importance of the outcome of this classic match would have done well to look at the Sussex players as they stood despondently on the outfield in the sharp evening sunlight. Neither their surroundings nor the fact that they had played a full part in this great game mattered to them in the slightest. Nine of this Sussex team were making their List A debuts. Tom Haines, their skipper, is 22 years old. Yet rather than disintegrate in the manner some pundits expect of young teams in the Royal London, they had made a perfectly competitive 270 on a pitch that reflected wonderfully well on the skills of Sedbergh's groundsman, Martin South.
Four of Haines' batsmen made over 40 with Oli Carter's 55 being perhaps the best of a fine set. But 16-year-old Danial Ibrahim's 46 offered further evidence of a rich talent and while nothing can diminish the deep disappointment this evening, the words of the coaches should offer balm. None of Haines' players looked out of place. This has been a summer for the green and carefree at Hove and surely travelling supporters will be thanking their stars they'd taken the trouble to make the 650-mile round trip. They have a young team of which to be proud.
Yet even on an evening such as this a quiet note of gentle warning should be sounded. The spectators who ringed the Cricket Field know what they enjoy and it is the game's longer formats. For very many of them days like this take their place in the wider context of an English summer. That includes visits to towns like this in the Howgill Fells with its thick-walled farmhouses, its haymaking, its gentle peace. Until you visit Sedbergh you cannot fully understand how beautiful it is. A man might visit this place and find that he can never leave.