Lancashire win thriller by one-wicket to keep title hopes alive
Lancashire have put themselves in contention for a tenth Championship title after a dramatic and nerve-shredding one-wicket victory against Hampshire at Liverpool.
Lancashire appeared to be coasting to victory with only 19 runs needed and five wickets left but Mason Crane (5-41) had other ideas.
The leg spinner had bowled superbly throughout the innings and he struck with three late wickets, plus a run out with a direct hit, to produce an incredible finale that had everybody at Aigburth on the edge of their seats.
Crane had Danny Lamb taken at slip at the end of 58th over with Lancashire 177-6.
Luke Wood helped Vilas add 10 runs to lower the runs required to nine before being caught at short leg by Joe Weatherley off the leggie.
Vilas drove Crane for four to long-on but with 3 runs required the Hampshire bowler then ran out Tom Bailey with a direct hit as the Lancashire pair attempted a quick single.
Jack Blatherwick scored a single but then edged Crane to Weatherley to leave Lancashire nine wickets down and just 2 runs away.
Matt Parkinson blocked out the remaining two deliveries from Crane to huge roars from the crowd before Vilas swept Dawson for four to seal victory.
It was that close and Aigburth erupted in joy.
"I was so focused on making sure we got the victory because I knew how much it meant to the guys upstairs watching - if I had been in the same position I would've been chewing my nails off, said Vilas.
"Parky (Matt Parkinson) was never going to get out to a leg spinner being the type of man that he is but it was incredibly tense because Mason (Crane) bowled incredibly well and he was asking some huge questions.”
Vilas admitted to a ‘special moment’ when he hit the winning runs that could-possibly-be the ones that win the title.
"To put ourselves in a position where we could potentially win the County Championship is massive,” he said.
“And you don't get these opportunities that often as players. I'm privileged and honoured that I could be there to get us over the line.
"The effort that we've shown throughout the whole season has meant everybody has stepped up at some stage - all the batters have got a hundred and that's what we want from a team - we don't want individuals to dominate and everyone who comes in at some stage has to put up their hand during the season at some point.
"We've created that culture and that environment where we drive each other to do well and everyone wants to do well for the team."
Whether Vilas and his side can celebrate such a success depends on the outcome of the Warwickshire v Somerset match which has gone into a fourth and final day at Edgbaston with the hosts leading by 157 runs with nine second innings wickets left.
Warwickshire will have to clinch victory tomorrow to claim the title and deny Lancashire being crowned Champions.
Today’s win also means Lancashire will be one of the two teams contesting the Bob Willis Trophy at Lord’s next week.
And by a statistical co-incidence the win was also Lancashire's 1,000th in the County Championship!
The Red Rose side were made to fight all the way by a Hampshire side that had title aspirations of their own.
Having negotiated a tricky thirty minutes before lunch Alex Davies and George Balderson made an excellent start, scoring quite freely after the resumption to take 55 runs off their 196 target.
Davies attacked anything off line to great effect, hitting 5 fours and smashing Liam Dawson’s first ball for six.
But both departed in quick succession; Balderson bowled for 12 down the leg side by Dawson after stepping across and Davies drove Keith Barker to Crane at point to go for a fighting 44.
Josh Bohannon drove his ball for four but settled in with some resolute defence as he and Luke Wells steadily chipped away at the target.
The pair then stepped up the attack with a flurry of runs, Bohannon twice driving Brad Wheal for fours, in a partnership of 55 runs that brought the required runs down to double figures to the delight of a lively Aigburth crowd.
Vince turned to the spin of Crane and the leg spinner struck immediately, Bohannon edging to the Hampshire skipper at slip for 18.
Wells had batted beautifully and resolutely for his 39, striking six fours, but he followed three overs later after edging Brad Wheal to Vince at first slip on the stroke of tea with Lancashire 118-4 and still needing 78 more to win.
It was Vilas who held the innings together superbly with a vital, unbeaten 47 and he found great support from Steven Croft who made an attacking 20 runs in a 33-run partnership that appeared to have broken the back of the run chase before Crane trapped Croft lbw with the score on 151-5.
That just opened the door slightly for Hampshire and the visitors fought hard all the way to the end and contributed hugely to a great game.
At the start of the day it was imperative for Lancashire to knock over the three remaining wickets quickly when Hampshire resumed their second innings on 158-7, leading by 160 runs, and they more or less did that dismissing Hampshire in the first hour with Tom Bailey to the fore.
Bailey added two more wickets to his tally to reach 50 for the season in first-class cricket and take a career-best 7-37.
It was an outstanding effort by the tall fast bowler who led the team off to huge applause.
Felix Organ was the first to go, lbw for 8, followed by Barker who edged behind to Davies.
Balderson wrapped up the innings when Mohammad Abbas also edged to Davies leaving Lancashire 196 runs to win.
It looked to be a challenging target, and so it proved.
A game none of us at Liverpool will forget in a long time.
Photos: Barry Mitchell & Luke Adams