It was with a handshake and a 53 run deficit at 4.55pm on Day Four of their encounter with Kent that Lancashire regained their top flight status in the County Championship.
The away side would have envisaged securing promotion in a more dominant fashion before this match began, but given the mess they found themselves at the start of the final day at the St. Lawrence Ground they will be happy to have taken the requisite points regardless.
As it turned out, Lancashire made it through the day with few difficulties thanks to the resolve of Steven Croft, Haseeb Hameed and Alex Davies.
Croft made his second gritty fifty of the match in the epitome of what might be termed a ‘captain’s knock’. His innings of 72 not out lasted a four hours and six minutes, using up 209 of the deliveries at Kent’s disposal as they tried to take the eight Lancashire wickets that remained at the beginning of the day.
A study of concentration and restraint – particularly given that the 30 year-old had already batted for over four hours the day before during Lancashire’s first innings – Croft was rock-solid, barely giving Kent’s bowlers a sniff of his wicket.
Entirely unruffled by the gang of fielders that surrounded him for large parts of the day – a gathering sufficient in number and close enough in proximity that it would have been banned under certain totalitarian regimes – Croft’s focus was unwavering.
Apart from the occasional risk-free pull-shot or drive into a deserted outfield when the ball warranted nothing else, a straight bat kept tight to his body was all Croft was willing to show the Kent attack.
He was ably supported by his wicketkeeper Alex Davies who reached a seventh Championship fifty of the season not long before the captains’ decision to call it a day. Batting for 153 balls and six minutes short of three hours for his unbeaten 58, Davies followed Croft’s example in resisting temptation and subjugating run-scoring to a secondary concern behind survival.
Earlier, either side of Darren Stevens’s dismissal of Ashwell Prince leg-before in the 17th over of the morning, Lancashire opening batsman Haseeb Hameed had demonstrated great maturity during his own rearguard action.
His 44, a career high in just his second first-class match, lasted 203 minutes and 138 balls and revealed the 18 year-old to be a highly organised player with an ice-cool temperament and a very bright future.
Resuming this morning on 17 and his side in trouble at 47 for two, an intimate knowledge of the whereabouts of his off-stump and a textbook forward defence frustrated Kent until the 37th over of the day when a Calum Haggett off-cutter sent his stumps flying.
This left Lancashire with six wickets in hand and the best part of two sessions to survive. Thanks to the diligence of Croft and Davies, they made it through to an early finish without sustaining any further losses.
Kent’s bowlers couldn’t be faulted for their efforts on an increasingly lifeless pitch and they stuck to their task admirably. James Tredwell might have been expected to have caused more problems on a fourth day pitch, but truth be told, there was very little on offer for the off-spinner.
Having been so dominant for the majority of this match and desperate to record only a fourth Championship win of the season, it was reluctantly that captain Sam Northeast offered his hand and accepted a draw and twelve points.
Lancashire return home to prepare for their likely title-deciding fixture with fellow promotion-winners Surrey that begins a week on Monday at Old Trafford, whilst Kent will have one more opportunity to record a Championship victory at Canterbury where they remain winless this season.