It was one of the more extraordinary days of cricket watching one will come across. It began in remarkable circumstances and ended with a remarkable win for Essex inside three days at Old Trafford.
Just 12 minutes had been played on the third morning when the game was halted. A string of ambulances began to arrive and parked at the side of the Old Trafford pavilion. There was a discussion about whether they were distracting for Essex’s batsmen, but play continued.
Mere minutes later and a much bigger distraction occurred as the North West Air Ambulance dropped down onto the outfield. A spectator in the pavilion had been taken seriously ill and all thoughts are obviously with them.
Half an hour and nine overs was lost from play after much of the final session on day two was also washed out.
That made what would come by the end of play – an Essex victory inside three days – all the more laudable.
Resuming on 221-6 with Adam Wheater and Simon Harmer at the crease, still 80 behind Lancashire’s first innings total, Essex soon found themselves looking at a reasonable deficit.
Tom Bailey took 3-4 in 14 deliveries to reduce the visitors to 260-9. The ball was keeping low and nipping around off a good length. Which made Lancashire’s approach of spreading the field and bowling short at Neil Wagner and Sam Cook all the more bizarre.
They gifted Essex vital last-wicket runs, 42 in total for the final pair as Wagner finally departed for 29, giving Lancashire a testing 12 minutes to negotiate before lunch.
Negotiate they did not, losing both openers Keaton Jennings and Alex Davies without scoring a run and battling to 6-2 at the interval.
The procession continued after the chilli had been digested, Haseeb Hameed departing for four after his first-innings five – thus managing to lower a season average that started the match at just 5.83.
Jamie Porter and Simon Harmer, the pair that bowled Essex to the title last season, were at their very best throughout the afternoon. Porter trapped Liam Livingstone and Jordan Clark after Harmer had done for both Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dane Vilas.
At 41-7, it had been an embarrassing slide for Lancashire in their second innings, seemingly having no answer to the pressure Essex were exerting on them in the glorious Old Trafford sunshine.
It was once again, much like the first innings, left to the tail to add valuable runs to the Lancashire total. Graham Onions and Tom Bailey did their best to do so, sharing a 34-run partnership for the eighth wicket in good time – launching something of a counter-punch for their side.
Bailey made 16 and Onions 13 before both were added to Harmer’s personal hitlist, taking him to four wickets in the innings. The race was one with Porter to get the five-fer.
It was the seamer who returned to take the final wicket, bowling Matthew Parkinson to dismiss Lancashire for a measly 105 and leaving Essex 105 to win.
Easy, it would appear. Onions made sure Essex’s quest for a Monday night trip south with victory in their hands wasn’t as simple as it appeared at first.
He nipped one back to bowl Varun Chopra for six and then had Alastair Cook caught at third slip for nine to leave Essex 22-2.
His third scalp, Tom Westley, increased any hopes of Lancashire pulling victory out of the jaws of defeat and when Joe Mennie joined the party by bowling Dan Lawrence, Essex were wobbling at 41-4.
But a half-century stand between Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate took Essex to within touching distance of their target. The latter fell for 19 but Bopara’s 36 guided Essex home.
They had delivered a superb day’s cricket, outperforming Lancashire in every aspect. It leaves them looking up the table with momentum and the Red Rose looking slightly nervously over their shoulders.