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September 15, 2011 6:14 pm

Lancashire wins county championship

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Lancashire shook a 77-year-old monkey off their backs at Taunton on Thursday, taking the county cricket championship title outright for the first time since 1934.

Prayers to St John of Arlott and promises to do pilgrimage to Hambledon helped as Hampshire batted title rivals Warwickshire to a draw at the Rose Bowl.

One of the tensest final days in the championship for years went down to the final hour, with fans at both grounds glued to Twitter and satellite TVs to keep track of their rivals’ progress.

Lancashire bowled out Somerset in their second innings for 310 leaving a chase of 211 in at least 28 overs. Even Lancashire fans saw it as a tricky target, but this team chases targets like a dog after a butcher’s bike.

The foundation of the win was an opening stand of 131 in 17 overs by Paul Horton and Stephen Moore, in spite of a go-slow by Somerset fielders.

Somerset could have made the pursuit harder, but misfields and dropped catches only egged on the batsmen.

Karl Brown (33) and Steven Croft (40) saw them reach the total with five overs to spare.

This sparked massive celebrations by hundreds of Lancashire fans, and cries of “there’s only one Glen Chapple” for the skipper, who played through the game with a torn hamstring, and cheers for ex-England manager and now Lancashire coach Peter Moores, architects of the successful season.

Warwickshire had started the day favourites having made Hampshire follow-on their first innings of 493.

But obdurate batting held up their title hopes. Michael Carberry scored 111 for Hampshire as they reached 327-7 in the second innings and never gave Warwickshire a second chance to bat.

“Always the bridesmaid, never the bride” jokes wore thin for cricketers north of the Mersey a long time ago. But after 77 years without a championship to call their own, Lancashire might have gone beyond bridesmaid status and become the Miss Havisham of the sport, locked away in occasionally petulant isolation in a rose-red wedding dress, living on memories of former glories.

The last team that took an undisputed county title to Old Trafford included names now misty with nostalgia such as Tyldesely, Paynter and Duckworth. Great players of later years never managed this feat. You could make a world-beating team out of their names: Atherton, Fowler, Pilling, Laxman, Fairbrother, Lloyd C, Engineer, Wasim Akram, Statham, Holding, Muralitharan. Every Lanky fan could give you their own such XI.

These icons of the game may have taken out a mortgage on the Gillette, NatWest and Benson & Hedges one day trophies in the 1970s and 1980s ... but they never took the title everyone at the club wanted and believed they deserved.

As notable as that benighted “77 years” number is the amount of times (eight) Lancashire have finished second, often just a couple of batting points behind the title-takers. So often they had to commiserate themselves with “nearly” and “next year then, our kid”.

The squad of 2011 has few big names. Jimmy Anderson, England’s spearhead, has barely been seen at home because of the international schedule and central contracts. Steven Croft, Simon Kerrigan, LukeProcter, et al, cannot claim the same household name status, but have produced performances that could provide a mathematical proof of the theory that a team is more than the sum of its individual parts.

With no disrespect to the main overseas player of 2011, Sri Lankan Farveez Maharoof, he is not the headline act previous years have seen. But he has became a cult figure nicknamed The Roof, taking key wickets (best 4-35) and crucial runs (av 40), and never been seen without a smile even when acting as Twelfth Man. But called up to his country’s touring side, he was notable for his captain’s reluctance to bowl him. Sri Lankan coach Stuart Laws, another ex Lanky, must have been inundated with Tweets and e-mails: “Can we have our bowler back if you don’t want him?”

Lancashire have a captain in Glenn Chapple who showed at Taunton he was prepared to bowl on one leg for the team. Neither he nor lead spinner Gary Keedy will see 35 again, but they have both taken 50-plus wickets and led a team of youngsters by example, giving them a street-fighting attitude that does not accept defeat (or a draw) until the last ball has been bowled.

Faced with scoring 121 in 15 overs against Yorkshire, they calmly – albeit violently – set about knocking them off.

Whenever the battling has failed, the bowlers have found the nous to chip off a score to give themselves something to bowl at. Chapple himself fell agonisingly short of a century against Hampshire after a batting collapse setting up a total that allowed Kerrigan to win it with the last of nine wickets in the last innings with just 4 minutes of the game left.

No one ever said supporting Lancashire was good for the heart.

And this bunch of grafters has been homeless. Old Trafford is being rebuilt and the square turned 90 degrees, so the peripatetic squad has spent most of the season squatting on the Liverpool club ground at Aigburth. In the end this proved a blessing for title hopes. Instead of playing in an echoing barn of stadium, they have been surrounded by enthusiastic fans in a more intimate atmosphere – and on a result wicket. Even if it rains in Liverpool the sea breeze blows it past quickly, unlike the rain trap that is Manchester. A fair few times on the banks of the Mersey, Lancashire forced wins while hearing that 30 miles to the east, the Warwick Road end was practically under water.

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