Paul Edwards at Taunton-on-The-Tone
Regular readers of these tales know that I frequently look far beyond the boundary. Not today, though. Not really for a minute today did I consider the exploits of old Somerset players, venerable cricket writers or even much-loved poetry about the game.
Today belonged to young - or not so young - Lancastrians, the tension of the moment and the epic narrative of the County Championship.
Those of you reading this tale, whether you are in Manchester, Madagascar or Malibu, should know that Wednesday's cricket at Taunton was as intense as the County Championship can produce; those of you watching the game at the County Ground will have experienced all this for yourself and will have your own memories of the play. If they are as vivid as mine, they will remain with you for as long as you watch cricket and are beguiled by its still endless appeal. Regardless of who wins the title, it was an inspiration to watch Lancashire play cricket today.
The talk among the journalists this morning was dominated by the mathematics of bonus points and the complexities of dependent hypotheticals. If Warwickshire win, can Lancashire still win the Championship. If both sides draw, what will the bonus points position need to be for Lancashire to win the title? (If we get two more people in the press box, will we need to ask for more biscuits?) Even journalists who have covered a host of Ashes series felt the tension and the excitement. Indeed, the unfolding drama this afternoon was far more gripping than many a Test match.
Walking around the ground early this morning, I met many supporters whom I have seen at a host of venues around the country this summer. Many of them have followed the county with a quiet, steadfast devotion utterly at variance with their hypercritical reputation. As Lancashire built their first-innings lead, you could hear their rich accents offering encouragement to Glen Chapple's batsmen. As the customers tucked into their lunches in the Colin Atkinson pavilion, shouts of "Good shot, Hoggy" rang out as the chase for five batting bonus points reached its climax. When the 400 came up, cheers were heard from stands named after Somerset heroes. Glen Chapple's players and those who support them deserve each other. In other sports such a comment is often a criticism; this September it is a salute to two remarkable groups of people among whom it is a pleasure to work
Lancashire's batting display was summed up by the fact that all eleven players reached double figures for the first time since the first innings of the game against Sussex in 1957, when Cyril Washbrook was lbw to Ken Suttle. Not for the first time this summer, another age reached into the 21st century The Red Rose bowling was as incisive as ever. But in the press box Twitter beat Cricinfo with the news that Hampshire had failed to save the follow-on. The Taunton PA relayed the information to the crowd and the players. Still Lancashire were not to be denied as Gary Keedy persuaded James Hildreth into a rush of blood and Simon Kerrigan had Jos Buttler brilliantly caught by Paul Horton at first slip. Lancashire supporters dared to hope. Then Hampshire's second-innings wickets began to fall at the Rose Bowl.
In April I wrote about how absorbing and thrilling the County Championship is and how various are its demands upon cricketers. Today I felt shocked at how dreadfully I had undersold my case. Whoever wins the title tomorrow, this was a day to remember in a summer to cherish.
Photo (c) PA Images
Article (c) Lancashire County Cricket Club