Doug Bracewell and Matt Critchley take crucial wickets to give Essex an essential victory in the title battle. Essex won by 46 runs over Lancashire 145 (S Cook 4-42, Walter 3-20) and 383 (Jones 111, Wells 75, Bohannon 68; Bracewell 3-50, Critchley 3-70).
Lancashire’s cricketers gathered at Stanley Park this morning, knowing they would earn five points for their team if they could bat out the day against Essex. Even in this day and age, chasing down 430 for victory on a fourth-day Blackpool pitch was an absurdity. That’s what we reasoned.
But Keaton Jennings and his players knew that even a shaky draw would make up for the damage done to their professional reputations by their hog whimperingly poor performance on the third day. So it was one of those occasions when county players discovered something about themselves that went beyond technique and personality. Colleagues and coaches can assist, but they cannot confront the bowling alley, either literally or metaphorically.
Even in defeat against a fine Essex side, whose diversified approach had conjured a 46-run victory with just ten balls to spare, Jennings’ players had learned much about themselves after nearly ten hours. And, rather than blocking like buggery for 96 overs, Lancashire’s batters had played positively, almost all of them, to give their side a chance of completing the most successful fourth-innings run-chase in their history. As it turned out, it wasn’t quite enough, but those who watched it will never forget it, regardless of their sympathies.
For in the day’s penultimate over, with Tom Westley’s men possibly doubting their chances of victory, Rob Jones flicked Doug Bracewell into the safe hands of Dan Lawrence at leg-slip. Lawrence was swarmed by teammates celebrating their fourth Championship victory almost instantly; simultaneously, Jones stood immobile on the crease, the fact of his brilliant 111 suddenly forgotten amid the desolation of defeat. Of course, he received a standing ovation when he returned to the pavilion, but so did Essex’s players at the end of a protracted drama, the tension of which had seemed inconceivable when the rain fell on Monday and Tuesday.
In reality, practically all the players won this game, including Jennings and Luke Wells, who put on a 58-run stand in the first hour of play, the highest opening partnership of the tournament. However, Glen Chapple did not break into a conga on the home balcony because of the previous three failed attempts. What could have impressed Lancashire’s head coach more was seeing his openers get through the opening hour of play with little concerns, except Wells being dropped on two when Simon Harmer grassed a problematic one-handed chance at second slip off Sam Cook.
On 30, though, Jennings was not as fortunate when he attempted to cut Bracewell but only clipped the ball high to Will Buttleman’s left, prompting the keeper to make an incredible one-handed catch.
There were no additional breakthroughs in the morning session for Essex. On the contrary, Wells reached his fifty off 83 balls, and Josh Bohannon fought back, lofting Harmer for leg-side sixes twice. Lancashire went into lunch on 140 for one after 32 overs, a number that prompted some well-watered individuals in the pavilion to speculate about their side’s chances of winning the match. They were very lively in the touring version of the 1864 Suite. However, this could have been due to the arrival of three cases of Château Lafaurie Peyraguey.
Such euphoria was not dampened when Bohannon hit Harmer for another six over long-on in the second over after lunch, but it was quickly exhausted when Lancashire lost two wickets in five balls. First, Wells, who had ridden a little luck and been dropped twice, was safely taken off Matt Critchley by Paul Walter at backward point. Dane Vilas, bowled for a five-ball duck, couldn’t do anything off Critchley’s googly.
The game’s atmosphere instantly changed as the Essex fielders backed their bowlers with renewed excitement and shouted encouragement. Justifiably so, after reaching an amazing fifty off 65 balls, Bohannon was caught behind square leg off left-arm seamer Paul Walter when a brilliantly timed pluck from his hip went straight to Jamie Porter at long leg.
Lancashire arrived at the midpoint of the day, exactly halfway to their goal.
Although Lancashire reached the midway of the day exactly halfway to their objective, they did so with their final two specialist batters together. And no one was talking about breaking 430 right now. However, as in so many cricket matches, Essex’s best chance of winning was that Lancashire could win. While the prospect of an unlikely triumph tempted Jones and Salt, Westley’s men recognized their prospects were improved as long as their opponents had a chance.
Shortly after tea, the game swung decisively in Essex’s favor, possibly crucially. After making 41, Salt top-edged a sweep off Critchley to Porter behind square on the leg side. After three overs, Colin de Grandhomme hooked Paul Walter straight to Jamie Porter at long leg, and it was clear that Lancashire was running out of batters capable of hitting the runs required for victory.
Nonetheless, they gave it a shot with 89 required off the last 16 overs and the new ball ready to be bowled. Before nicking Cook to Buttleman, Tom Hartley made 17. Next over, Jack Blatherwick returned a catch to Porter, and with seven overs remaining, Tom Bailey skied Bracewell to backward point, where Harmer took a fantastic diving catch. Lancashire eventually settled for the draw, possibly a little too late, and the crowd fell silent. The interest beckoned when Will Williams defied Harmer with some front-foot lunges. Then Bracewell collected his bulk and rushed in to bowl at Jones.
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