There was a question asked in the press box early on Day Four at Old Trafford: “How can anyone not think this is the greatest game in the world?”
It was a perfectly valid point, given the spectacle that was unfolding in front of us, had unfolded over the last three days, and would unfold throughout the course of the afternoon.
The twists and turns of a Specsavers County Championship game are simply magnificent at times. After a first day where 18 wickets fell, the chances of even being here to witness a game on Monday seemed remote. Let alone witnessing a fascinating conclusion to a pulsating match.
When Lancashire found themselves 42-6 on the first morning, it looked as though the hosts were in real danger of being skittled for an incredibly low score. Liam Livingstone’s lone hand dragged them to respectability at 109, but it was still a meagre total.
Few, at that point, would have considered a Lancashire victory even a remote possibility. But that’s exactly what occurred on the final afternoon as a Lancashire charge, spearheaded by James Anderson, inspired the Red Rose to their first win of the season.
The kind of win so rarely seen, a win by a whopping 164 runs having conceded a significant first-innings deficit.
From a position of notching just 109 in the first innings, it was a remarkable turnaround. After that low score though, when they had Somerset 145-8 on that first evening, it appeared as though honours were going to be essentially even.
Day Two brought another turn, as Somerset’s last two wickets put on 133 and Dean Elgar carried his bat to make a century and give the visitors a lead of 169.
Throw a couple of quick Lancashire wickets into the mix, as Haseeb Hameed and Luke Procter came and went, and Somerset had the Red Rose firmly behind the eight-ball.
But this game springs back to life when you think it’s dead and buried. It’s what makes Test or four-day cricket so engaging. Enter Livingstone and Alex Davies with a 245-run stand to put the hosts back in command.
Time for another twist to this tangled tale. Lancashire lost Rob Jones, Dane Vilas, Livingstone and Jordan Clark for just 25 runs. The lead was just 200 and there was still plenty of mileage left in the day.
When the history books are written, the chapter of this match should not overlook the partnership between Ryan McLaren and Stephen Parry, eventually worth 77. They dug in on that third evening, when a quick Lancashire fold would have handed the initiative to the Taunton side.
Lancashire resumed the third day with a lead of 254, with McLaren and Parry at the crease.
Soon there was a moment to savour for left-arm spinner Parry, who passed his first-class best of 37.
Lancashire were pushing the lead towards 300, a point a which most observing thought there was an outside chance of a declaration.
McLaren fell for 45, attempting a big shot over mid-off, Kyle Jarvis came and went and Gregory removed Parry to set the Somerset target at a testing, but gettable, 295.
At this point, all results were possible. It simply couldn’t have been set up any better, and from our first day belief that Old Trafford would be a deserted place on Monday, it was a thrilling proposition.
It was at this stage that speculation turned to how Somerset would approach their unlikely chase. The consensus was that they would bat normally and see where they were at Tea.
After a steady start, their plans were thrown out of the window by some superb Lancashire bowling. Marcus Trescothick and Dean Elgar guided Somerset to 29-0 at lunch, but quick-fire strikes from Jarvis and McLaren after the interval started the ball rolling for Lancashire.
Anderson took up the baton and showed his Test class to remove key-man Trescothick and keeper Steven Davies. From there, McLaren and Clark did the damage.
Clark picked up three scalps, while McLaren finished with four – the same total he claimed in the first innings – to cap a superb performance and take match figures of 8-113.
It was he who was to take the final wicket, sending Tim Groenewald’s stumps flying just after 4.30pm.
— Lancashire CCC 🌹 (@LancsCCC) April 24, 2017
“It’s been a long four days,” Lancashire coach Glen Chapple said.
“We were stuck in and we could have played better first day. I don’t think any pitch at Old Trafford is a 109 all out pitch, but it was doing a bit and they bowled well.
“The remainder of the game has just been a sustained effort of determination and quality cricket and a team unit sticking together. Obviously the lads are delighted and it’s a fabulous way to win.
“It needs a remarkable effort from a batting unit to achieve a turnaround like that. So the partnership between Alex and Liam was of high quality and it was stretched out over a period of time which is what was needed.”
Livingstone said on Friday that he would prefer if Lancashire didn’t have to keep battling back from tough positions, but if they can continue to claim wins such as this, he probably won’t care a jot.