Lancashire have put the icing on the cake by returning to the top tier of the LV= County Championship as Division Two champions after drawing their penultimate clash with Gloucestershire at Bristol today.
The Red Rose dominated the final day in the West Country with both ball and bat. They bowled the hosts out for 209 in reply to 310-8 declared in the first innings before Paul Horton and Luis Reece excelled with the bat again.
Lancashire’s draw, combined with Northamptonshire’s draw against Kent meant that Glen Chapple was able to lift the trophy Mark Chilton had in 2005.
This was despite the Lancashire captain remaining off the field for the whole of day four with a recurrence of his hamstring and Achilles injury which ruled him out of the recent draw with Leicestershire.
Lancashire, who picked up nine points from this match, head into Tuesday’s final clash of 2013 against Kent at Canterbury with one more aim - to remain as the only unbeaten side in the country. Chapple will almost certainly miss that match.
"I think this season's panned out really well for us," said Chapple. "It's by no means an easy thing to do. There's been some good teams, and we've had some really good games of cricket.
“We've got to be really proud of the cricket we've played, which has been of a really high standard virtually all the way through.
"We started off a little bit slow, but we played good cricket nevertheless. We then came on really strong.
“We've just said in the changing room how pleased we are with the quality of cricket we've played. Hopefully it will stand us in good stead for the future.
"To win the league so convincingly was down to the two games against Northants and the two games against Essex. They were double point games almost against the next two top teams. I think we've grown as a team and a squad throughout the year. That's great for the future.”
Tom Smith and Oliver Newby shared the seven wickets to fall this morning as Gloucester fell from 90-3 at the start of play to 209 all out in reply to Lancashire’s 310-8 declared.
Smith finished with 4-49 from 12 and Newby 4-71 from 18.4 in only his second match of the season.
The only downside to the day was Reece narrowly missing out on his maiden Championship century by three runs. He was bowled by David Payne for 97 with the last ball of the match. Lancashire declared their second innings on 195-2.
There was a definite opportunity for Lancashire to win this match because Gloucester lost six wickets for 23 runs to slip from a position of reasonable safety at 132-3 to 155-9 - still six runs short of avoiding the follow-on.
But Payne and Matt Taylor shared an entertaining 54 inside nine overs for the last wicket to pass 200 and snuff out the possibility of an away victory.
Smith took all of his four wickets before lunch, while Newby added three his solitary day three strike. Substitute fielder Andrea Agathangelou came on in place of Chapple and took three catches at second slip.
Lancashire started their second innings immediately after lunch with a lead of 101. Horton and Reece played positively in sharing 107 - their fourth stand above 100 in the last seven innings.
Horton posted 55 before falling trying to him left-arm spinner Tom Smith over the top. Reece and Ashwell Prince (40 not out) then shared 88 for the second wicket. Prince heads into next week’s match on the verge of 15,000 first-class career runs.
Main picture: Glen Chapple receives the Division 2 trophy from ECB Chief Executive David Collier
Pictures (c) Tony Marshall/EMPICS