Oh Lanky, Lanky… Given a lifeline by both captains (Chris Rogers choosing to bat in tricky conditions; Glen Chapple forced to bat in trickier conditions, his 9 runs in the 110th over sealing an all-important bonus point), Lancashire could not dislodge Middlesex’s late order, in which Toby Roland-Jones and James Harris showed again what resourceful cricketers they are. So, as we kind of knew all summer long, Old Trafford will see Division Two cricket again next season. That will disappoint the legions of fans who follow Lancashire online (your writer included), but another rollercoaster season beckons and that’s plenty compensation. It’s only the weather that’s dull in Manchester.
Ball Two – Middlesex’s travails a sign of county cricket’s strength
How did Middlesex find their Division One status imperilled right up until the last afternoon of the season? Even with England calls, they can field XIs with plenty of experience and no little skill, big runs and twenty wickets looking likely rather than unlikely. Perhaps the reason for Middlesex’s difficulties is a simple one – there are six counties able to field better XIs across the season. And that augurs well for the quality of English county cricket, a product that really ought to trumpet its attractions more loudly.
Ball Three – Hampshire and Worcestershire seal promotion – in that order
In Division Two, the long time top pair went up, but Hampshire leapfrogged Worcestershire to earn the prizemoney after steamrollering Glamorgan, while Worcestershire took a comparable beating at the hands of Essex, whose charge came just a little too late. Many will feel that justice is served by Hampshire’s overhauling of Worcestershire, but Daryl Mitchell’s team’s achievement should not be diminished, even if Saeed Ajmal is currently undergoing remedial work on his action. They’ll need him back next season though.
Ball Four – The Final Over’s favourite batsman
Not best. That would be Adam Lyth, going in against the new ball and getting the Champions off to a solid start match after match; or Ed Joyce, the old stylist stroking runs at Sussex. My favourite batsmen this season is Daryl Mitchell, whose form only dropped off once promotion was pretty much secured. He’s a local boy, captain and opening bat whose average at the start of the season put him firmly in the journeyman category – in other words, he represents the bedrock of the county game. Five centuries and four fifties not only delivered the runs behind which Saeed Ajmal wove his spells, but in the vital first match without their Pakistani talisman, he lifted the team by winning the toss and carrying his bat for 167 runs to set up a crushing 8 wickets victory over Gloucestershire. That is how to lead from the front.
Ball Five – The Final Over’s favourite bowler
Though one cannot help but smile at the 100 wickets shared by Darren Stevens and Jesse Ryder – really, Division Two batsmen, you should know better – my favourite bowler this season is Yorkshire’s Jack Brooks. A late starter in the First Class game (and it shows a bit) his second season at Headingley saw him play all 16 matches, chugging in for more than 500 overs, taking 68 wickets and never letting his captain down. 30 now, he might never play international cricket, but he’s a throwback to what’s becoming an endangered species – the seamer who bowls and bowls and bowls until he gets his man out. We should treasure them while we still have them.
Ball Six – The Final Over’s favourite coach
In 2005, Jason Gillespie was subjected to something more than the pantomime booing that was Ricky Ponting’s fate in 2009, made all the more unpleasant by the fact that his bowling was disintegrating (he was dropped after three Tests of that series and played only two more, including his extraordinary farewell in Chittagong). Dizzy was plainly a fine bowler (rather more than that when unburdened by injuries on his first Ashes tour in 1997) and is now a fine coach, building a successful and happy team at Yorkshire. He has taken his club from Division Two to the summit of Division One without ever being anything other than himself, an endearingly straightforward and amusing bloke. “My daughter was born in Yorkshire, my son is getting the accent, so I’m stuck. We live in Leeds, we’ve bought a house, our kids are settled. This is our home.” Even this Lancashire fan is proud to have you Sir.