Lancashire clinch Division Two title
Lancashire are Division Two Champions in the Specsavers County Championship after an extraordinary finish to the opening day against Middlesex at Emirates Old Trafford.
Put into bat this morning, Lancashire were indebted to half centuries from Liam Livingstone and Steven Croft that held their innings together in a total of 259 that looked to be below-par for the prevailing conditions, with the Middlesex attack bowling a good line and length.
However the two batting points gained, along with Northants dropping four batting points in their match with Durham, confirmed the Red Rose side as champions just as their innings came to a close.
And a buoyant Lancashire attack then reduced Middlesex to an astonishing 39-6 by the close with Tom Bailey the chief destroyer taking 5-16 in nine sensational overs.
After an uncontested toss Keaton Jennings and Alex Davies made a steady start, patiently seeing off the new ball attack of Ethan Bamber and Toby Roland-Jones with both batsmen picking off anything wayward.
But both then succumbed to the Middlesex first change bowlers. Davies, having hit four delightful boundaries, edged a James Harris delivery that seamed away to wicketkeeper John Simpson for 16 while Keaton Jennings was late on a well-pitched up delivery from Miguel Cummins to be lbw for 22, both wickets falling on 49.
Fresh from his maiden century last week, Josh Bohannon was soon into his stride twice cutting Harris for four in the same over but Roland-Jones returned to find an edge to wicketkeeper John Simpson from a forward defensive push after the 22 year-old had made 19 and Lancashire lunched on 92-3.
Middlesex made further inroads nine overs into the afternoon when Rob Jones was bowled for 11 and the visitors were jubilant when Dane Vilas, the leading batsman in the second division this season, edged to Dawid Malan at second slip off Cummins for a duck.
Livingstone, who had already progressed steadily to 41 at this point, countered with some attacking shots including a straight six off spinner Sowter and his attacking instincts garnered 43 off the 53 runs for the sixth wicket with Steven Croft before he departed for an excellent 84, lbw to Bamber, with Lancashire 182-6.
It was left to Croft to hold the rest of the innings together, a task he accomplished superbly in the facing of some accurate Middlesex bowling.
His unbeaten 55 took Lancashire way past the two hundred mark and the sting in the tail, as far as Middlesex were concerned, came when Graham Onions joined forces with Croft to add 30 for the tenth wicket in just four overs, both batsman hitting a six apiece.
Croft brought up his half century just before Lancashire were all out for 259 at half past four and greeted in the dressing room with the news that they had just been crowned Division Two Champions.
That news helped to assuage some Red Rose disappointment with their total, especially when Middlesex collapsed in spectacular fashion during the remaining 18 overs of the day.
Onions struck first with the wicket of Sam Robson, caught behind for 8, before Bailey steamed in from the Statham End to take an outstanding 5-16 that destroyed the Seaxes innings before it ever got going.
Nick Gubbins edged behind for 5, Dawid Malan did the same for a second-ball duck, while both Martin Andersson (4) and nightwatchman Cummins (2) were lbw to a near unplayable spell from Bailey that included three wickets in 17 balls at one point.
The icing on the cake came with Bailey’s fifth wicket when the tall fast bowler flung himself low to his right to scoop a marvellous one-handed catch of his own bowling to send back a stunned Max Holden for 5.
It was Bailey’s eighth five-wicket haul in first-class cricket and, incredibly, four of them have been against Middlesex.
The visitors have it all to do tomorrow, trailing by 220 runs with four wickets remaining and needing another 71 runs to avoid the follow-on.
"The team weren't too happy with that score,” admitted Tom Bailey. “It felt like if you could get stuck in then you could get some runs.
“But we came out and bowled the way we have all year.
“Liam and Crofty both scored crucial runs,” he added. “And we've been really good with the bat all year so this (innings) is a one-off. I'm sure the batsmen will contribute in the second innings.
“It’s gone quickly today. Hopefully it’ll be more of a batting day tomorrow.”
Asked about his five-wicket haul Bailey smiled. "I think I bowled pretty well today,” he said.
“I really enjoyed it. I’m not the fastest bowler around and pride myself on being economical and I feel like I am back to where I was last year.
“I struggled with my knee at the start of the season so to come back and I feel I am bowling like last season has been a real positive for me.
“And I always seem to do well against Middlesex,” he added. “So that’s always in the back of your mind.”
Bailey revealed the timing of the news from Northampton couldn’t have been better.
“I think getting the news we were champions just before we went out to bowl was handy. It took the pressure off.”
“We set that goal at the start of the season, so it’s good to achieve it with one and a half games to go.”
Photos: Barry Mitchell
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