Lancashire have one hand on the 2021 County Championship crown after an incredible finish to their potential title decider against Hampshire at Aigburth CC, with the climax instantly cementing its place as one of the greatest England and Wales’ storied first-class competition has seen.
The apparent destination of this year’s title has changed over and over again during a thrilling final round of fixtures. Both Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire saw bonus points denied at the last to dent their chances.
Had the former scored four more runs, then victory for Lancashire and a Warwickshire failure to beat Somerset would have seen them take first place with a win. The latter, meanwhile, secured a fourth batting bonus point in last-gasp circumstances, Danny Briggs striking a 29-ball half-century to see them past 350 in the 110th over, the last in which bonus points can be accrued, but were denied a third bowling point by the heroics of Jack Leach and Lewis Gregory. That meant Hampshire had destiny in their hands. A victory over Lancashire would have confirmed them as county champions.
Leach’s obduracy also lessened significantly the chances of a Warwickshire victory full stop, meaning Lancashire’s clash against Hampshire was close to a winner-takes-all encounter, and it served as a fitting showpiece clash.
A low-scoring encounter in which no innings passed 200, just two runs separated the sides on first innings, and a half-century from England’s James Vince – the only fifty-plus score of the game – set Lancashire a challenging 196 to win. In the chase, there were contributions throughout the top and middle order. All of the top six made it into double figures, with Alex Davies’ eye-catching cameo getting his side off to a flier.
But Mason Crane sparked a collapse. His first wicket came with Lancashire 112-2, and from there, the game ebbed and flowed dramatically. Lancashire went from 118-4 to 177-5, but as the target edged nearer, so the wickets fell more quickly.
He was in one way or another responsible for the last five wickets to fall, including a direct hit to run out No.9 Tom Bailey, and his dismissal of Jack Blatherwick with two needed for victory gave him two balls against fellow England leggie Matt Parkinson – batting average of 7.63 – to snatch an incredible win. But Parkinson held firm, and captain Dane Vilas swept for four in the following over before wild celebrations began.
The result was celebrated around the world, with sometime Lancashire overseas player Glenn Maxwell tuning in from the UAE, and a collection of cricket writers putting pause on their own recreational game to watch the closing stages.
You beauty!!! Great work lads!! 🌹🌹🌹 https://t.co/VZDJyzU2Un
— Glenn Maxwell (@Gmaxi_32) September 23, 2021
— Andrew Miller (@miller_cricket) September 23, 2021
Lancashire players past and present celebrated the triumph.
Absolutely fantastic 🌹🌹 https://t.co/b4H4lyVpty
— Mike atherton (@Athersmike) September 23, 2021
Never in doubt @lancscricket 😳
— Graham Onions (@BunnyOnions) September 23, 2021
WHAT A WIN 😍😍🌹🌹🌹 https://t.co/x7yqZ6a2Am
— Luke Wood (@lwood_95) September 23, 2021
But some were careful to point out that the destination of the title isn’t decided yet.
A mad game at Liverpool, where Lancashire's one-wicket win over Hampshire means Warwickshire can pip them (Lancashire) to the title only if they beat Somerset tomorrow.
— Lawrence Booth (@the_topspin) September 23, 2021
— Annie Chave (@AnnieChave) September 23, 2021
What isn’t in doubt, however, is the ability of the County Championship to thrill and excite. The competition has been much maligned in recent years, but this was a day to treasure, whoever you support.
— Kevin P Hand (@KevinHandBBC) September 23, 2021