The great irony of Lancashire’s relegation, confirmed on a mild autumn’s afternoon at The Ageas Bowl, is that the match results they needed this week could well come to fruition: they are in the driver’s seat to beat Hampshire while Nottinghamshire look on course for defeat to Somerset.
But it was the bonus points, or lack thereof, that did for the Red Rose. Their five in this match means that the best they can do is draw level with Nottinghamshire, who will survive on more matches won.
When Rob Jones and Dane Vilas were at the crease together, it looked possible they would reach the golden goose target of 300 to keep them in contention. The pair added 84 in 19 overs for the sixth wicket before Vilas chipped back to Liam Dawson.
But Jones — who came into this match with an average of 9.86 in this season’s Specsavers County Championship — looked in finer touch than he has in two years. His 68 was his first half-century since his maiden century against Middlesex in 2016, and he took Lancashire to 241 before being pinned in front.
Josh Bohannon scored 28 to keep hopes alive, but the tail lasted just 16 balls against the new ball. Bohannon flayed Kyle Abbott to slip, Tom Bailey was castled by a beautiful out-swinger from Fidel Edwards, and Saqib Mahmood was lbw to a similar delivery. Lancashire were 273 all out, and relegated moments after 2pm.
Optimistic Lancastrians could point to the Roses match at Old Trafford, which their side lost but took just two bowling bonus points after the third was stripped for a slow over-rate. But while it’s true that — much like Middlesex at The Oval last season — that point has technically cost them Division One status, the reality is their batting has not been good enough. Passing 300 in the first innings just five times in a Championship season hardly equates to top tier performances.
To be fair to them, they batted admirably after Liam Livingstone’s dismissal seventh ball of the morning, bowled by a sumptuous yorker from Edwards. It helped, of course, that Hampshire’s tactics were somewhat curious: at one stage Edwards peppered Jones and Vilas with a deep square, long leg, and a legslip and first slip that were alternating orthodox positions and being in backstop territory.
But this display of grit was a rare one. It is telling that while Old Trafford is home to the two leading wicket-takers in the division — Tom Bailey with 62, and Graham Onions 57 — only three players have scored centuries, with seven between them. Only Nottinghamshire have fewer, and no other Division One county has had so few players hit three figures.
“At some point today we thought we might be in with a chance of pulling off a miracle, but we knew it had to be a miracle coming into the game,” the Lancashire captain Livingstone said at the end of play.
“The way we’ve played the last two days, no one’s given up.
“At times this season we’ve been very bad for hours here and there that have killed us, so do I think we’ve been one of the two worst teams in the competition? No. I just think when we’ve been bad we’ve been very bad and it’s ultimately cost us.
“A lot of the games we’ve had that we have lost have been close games, so if you just turn one of those results around you stay up.
“Division Two’s a tough division but we’ve got a lot of talent and a lot of experience, so it’s up to us to learn from the mistakes this year and put it all right, and hopefully we can play some strong cricket going into the start of next year.”
Once Lancashire were all out, happenings on the pitch seemed almost irrelevant. Hampshire did suffer a collapse to 88 for six, Richard Gleeson with the first three wickets and Bohannon the next three, to leave a two-day finish on the cards.
But Liam Dawson’s 37 helped ensure it will make a third day as they reached stumps 92 ahead on 178 for eight.
It was a day of farewells at Southampton. As Lancashire waved goodbye to the first division for the third time in seven seasons, Hampshire said goodbye to the retiring Jimmy Adams. The opener turned 38 on Sunday and is all but certain to play the final day of his first-class career on Wednesday.
Alastair Cook’s final Test success, this was not. After a duck in the first innings, he shelled Jones on 67 and the ball dropped onto the wicketkeeper’s helmet, before being harshly given lbw on 13 when leaving one that went across him.
Jones sprinted after Adams to shake his hand as he departed, after Stephen Parry had done so before the batsman got off the wicket. He had been greeted by applause by all — the crowd, Lancashire’s players, even the two umpires — and departed to it too, being given a guard of honour by his teammates and coaching staff and receiving a hug from his father below the dressing room stairs.
It has been a glorious 16-year career for Adams, and he is not a batsman Hampshire will replace easily. He’ll end with a quaint statistic, too: the last of his 14,134 runs in first-class cricket were a seven, owing to overthrows.
“I might be able to go down in history as the person whose last ever scoring shot was a seven and I’ll take that,” he said afterwards. “I went to my normal scoring area of third man and hopefully it’ll be recorded as a stunning straight drive. I don’t remember ever seeing a seven before.
“I haven’t been clapped to the wicket since I was about ten,” he remarked about his arrival at the crease. “You don’t really know what to expect so it was a nice warm feeling.”