It’s a cliché to label matches such as these ‘a great advert for the County Championship’.
The reality is that the County Championship shouldn’t need advertising. But, if there were any people present at Southport for whom it was their first such game, the County Championship will surely have gained lifelong fans.
If it was possible to write a script for a match like this, one would be hard pushed to pen such a masterpiece.
Let’s jump to the conclusion. Lancashire were the victors against Worcestershire, claiming the most improbable, implausible of wins and one which gave an enormous boost to their Division One survival chances.
Their win came courtesy of a remarkable batting effort, securing a record chase at Southport to win by four wickets.
Now to the beginning. Lancashire came into the game rooted to the foot of the table, six points adrift of opposition Worcestershire having played a game fewer than all those immediately above them.
In short, it appeared must-win for the Red Rose. For the vast majority of the three days of the match, Worcestershire appeared the side most likely to take the spoils.
And to the main plot. Fifteen wickets fell on each of the first two days. Worcestershire surprised many by choosing to bat first and battled hard to make 222 in the face of some excellent Lancashire bowled on a pitch that offered assistance to the seamers.
Tom Bailey and Graham Onions – the leading wicket-takers in Division One – shared six wickets while Brett D’Oliveira’s 65 was the main resistance offered by Worcestershire.
By the close of the opening day it appeared a solid total. Lancashire lost five wickets with just 85 on the board, the batting issues that have undermined their entire season returning to the surface once again.
Their second five wickets fell in just 14.5 overs of day two. Lancashire gave away a lead of 61 after the first innings and were under the cosh, against their nearest relegation rivals. For their part, Worcestershire were on the charge in pursuit of a successive victory after demolishing Yorkshire last week.
Bailey was inspired and ripped the heart out of Worcestershire’s top order before lunch on day two with three quick wickets. But the Pears showed significant grit and ground out handy partnerships on a pitch which was looking as though it was getting a tad easier to handle.
A 40 from Ben Cox and a classy 50 from Wayne Parnell set about breaking Lancashire spirits, knowing that their fragile, underperforming batting lineup was facing a sizeable chase.
314 was the exact size of that chase. It would need to surpass the previous record chase at Southport – 248 – by some margin.
At 8-0 at the start of day three, Worcestershire were to deliver a morning session that made it appear they would be the victors.
Nightwatchman Toby Lester run out, Hameed hinting at a return to form before falling, Jones bagging a pair and Alex Davies throwing his wicket away. Add all that up and it came to 96-4 at lunch.
A pair of half-century partnerships between Dane Vilas and first Steven Croft and then Jordan Clark brought the odds of victory closer together again. Vilas would lose both of those partners, but tea came with both teams in with every chance.
97 needed for Lancashire, four wickets needed for Worcestershire.
Every great plot needs a main protagonist. Vilas was that man. Having made a half-century, underpinned by guts and elegance before tea, he was the man to spearhead Lancashire’s victory push.
Vilas made his third century of the season and without any doubt his most important. He found assistance from Josh Bohannon – the local boy playing in just his second first-class match.
Together they put on 139, a partnership that carried Lancashire home on the most glorious of evenings at a sun-soaked Southport. Vilas finished on 107, Bohannon on 78.
Unlikely as it had seemed, the Red Rose had done it. Only a second win of the season, but one which lifted them off the bottom of the table, above Worcestershire, and back in the survival mix.
Vilas was under no illusions as to how important it was.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “We knew it was going to be tough chasing that on the last day. But it’s really crucial at this stage to get over the line and that’s a massive win for us.
“We knew we needed to be better but this team, when the questions are raised, the guys stand up. We know that we have underperformed – the bowlers have been incredible – I think we have let them down slightly.
“Getting to fifty was a nice milestone and it was nice to get in. We knew once you get in on the wicket you had to go big. Thankfully it was my day. I knew that I had to kick on and see the boys home.”