The General and his Titan: Chris Adams (left) celebrates the Championship title with Mushtaq Ahmed © Getty Images
The General and his Titan: Chris Adams (left) celebrates the Championship title with Mushtaq Ahmed © Getty Images

September 22, 2007. Mushtaq Ahmed had as good as settled things for Sussex with a 13-wicket haul at Hove. Then, against all odds, VVS Laxman and Stuart Law decided to chase down 489 at The Oval to clinch the County Championship for themselves. Madness prevailed as the officials, all set to hand the prize to Chris Adams at Hove, were struck midway between the two venues. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a day of breakneck batting, two edgy camps, and a group of stuck-up authorities.

Tripartite struggle

The County Championship was dying out, they said. Indeed, amidst all the hullabaloo of the newly invented Twenty20 format and continuous revamp of the domestic structure, the significance of the tournament that attracted the attention of the British cricket fraternity — and beyond — for six months a year seemed to recede.

Indeed, there was no Denis Norden anymore to reflect: “It’s a funny kind of month, October. For the really keen cricket fan it’s when you discover that your wife left you in May.”

The fans waited eagerly, their eyes on the neighbouring counties of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex — for unlike many other editions of the Championship, the winner was yet to be decided. When the final round started, Durham, playing Kent at Canterbury, were on 177.5; Sussex, hosting Worcestershire at Hove, were 180; and topping the table was Lancashire, touring Surrey at The Oval, on 186. ALSO READ: A complete list of County championships and its winners since 1890

While all this was happening, Hampshire (169) and Yorkshire (170) clashed at Headingley at the other end of the country. Both sides were in contention as well.

The first three days

Durham managed to seal things off in the first three days. They were reduced to 92 for 4 after Kent were bowled out for 212, but Dale Benkenstein, that experienced South African, guided his side to a 109-run lead. They romped home by an eight-wicket margin after Liam Plunkett and Paul Wiseman routed the hosts for 160. With a full 20 points, Durham finished with 197.5.

The Headingley match (which was also Inzamam-ul-Haq’s last Championship match) was marred by rain. James Bruce exploited the conditions beautifully, skittling out Yorkshire for 195. Hampshire braved Matthew Hoggard, Darren Gough, and Tim Bresnan, and went to stumps on Day Two on 244 for 4 with Michael Carberry unbeaten on 113. Unfortunately, rain ruled out any cricket on Day Three, and play did not look likely on Day Four either.

Six Sussex batsmen scored between 52 and 99 as they amassed 532. Then Mushtaq Ahmed took over, running through the Worcestershire line-up with 6 for 93. Chris Adams enforced the follow-on after a 319-run lead; at stumps the tourists were 190 for 5, struggling to make Sussex bat again.

Mark Ramprakash, who had already attained godlike stature in 2007 by being over 400 clear of anyone else, carved out 196 in Surrey’s first innings and 130 (not out) more in the second.  The significance of Ramps’ performance is evident from Surrey’s 193-run lead. He finished the Championship on 2,026 runs; David Sales of Northamptonshire, the next man on the list, had 1,384.

With not much to play for, Mark Butcher set Lancashire a target of 489: they finished on 27 for no loss. They needed another 462.

Mark Ramprakash en route to his second century of the match © Getty Images
Mark Ramprakash en route to his second century of the match © Getty Images

In other words, when play started on September 22, Durham were on 197.5. A win would give Sussex 22, which would take them to 202 — they already had 5 batting and 3 bowling points. Similarly, an unlikely win (464 runs on the final day), and as a result, an 18-point haul (they had 1 batting and 3 bowling points) would take Lancashire to an unassailable 204.

At Hove

The trick lay in breaking the stand between Moeen Ali and Gareth Batty. They had added 73 on Day Four, and inched towards batting out the day in front of a near-packed ground at Hove.

But Mushtaq was in another zone that day. He later told Sky Sports: “I had an extra pray and asked Allah to give us another Championship. If you give 100 per cent then Allah will always favour you.”

Then Mushtaq broke through, ending Moeen’s 152-ball vigilance, clean bowling him. Kabir Ali, Moeen’s cousin, was cleaned up by Robin Martin-Jenkins (son of CMJ) after a 41-minute stand of 43. And finally, Batty’s patience gave in as he was stumped off Mushtaq.

The end came swiftly as Mushtaq rounded things off for Sussex. It took the hosts about 90 minutes to register an innings victory, Mushtaq finishing with 7 for 132 (match figures of 13 for 215). Mushtaq finished with 90 wickets in the Championship, 10 clear of Durham’s Ottis Gibson.

Hove broke into applause when he had Nadeem Malik caught at bat-pad. It was, however, a muffled one — for there was still a match to be finished at The Oval.

The fans who could not make it to the match rushed to the ground once news got out. Martin Williamson wrote on ESPNCricinfo:Hundreds continued to mill around the County Ground like expectant fathers, unwilling to let go of the season until their county’s fate was known. The PA advised them to head off and come back later. Few took any notice and chose to bask and wait with their fellow fans in the late-September sunshine.”

But Adams and his men were anxious. They sat glued to the television.

Mushtaq Ahmed removes the biggest thorn in Sussex's flesh © Getty Images
Mushtaq Ahmed removes the biggest thorn in Sussex’s flesh: Graeme Hick is trapped LBW © Getty Images

At The Oval

Elsewhere, Chris Jordan had Paul Horton caught down leg, following which Mark Chilton shuffled the batting order. He held Steven Croft back; the crowd at the historic ground was taken aback at the sight of the tall frame of VVS Laxman take field. It would not be the last time he would be sent under pressure at No. 3.

Chilton stepped out time and again, and made sure the score reached three-figures before he stepped out and was stumped. The wicket brought Stuart Law to the crease, and the seasoned pair suddenly decided to take charge. News of the Hove match had reached The Oval when artist and grafter, poet and essayist went hand-in-hand.

Boundaries flowed. Butcher spread the field back. But Laxman and Law kept finding the gaps. Laxman dominated the stumps with characteristic silken drives and majestic pulls, while Law took back-seat, helping the ball around The Oval for singles. The score read 178 for 2 at lunch: they needed another 311 from two sessions.

It never mattered whether it was the India colours or the Red Roses: VVS Laxman always gave it his all © Getty Images
It never mattered whether it was the India colours or the Red Roses: VVS Laxman always gave it his all © Getty Images

On M23

The M23 is a 25.6-km offshoot of A23 that runs from Marling Glen, Surrey to Crawley, Sussex. It was on M23 that a car stood, undecided. Seated inside it were ECB officials, carrying a cheque worth £100,000.

The car was parked roughly at the midway point between The Oval and Sussex CCC Ground at Hove. Which way to go? If only they got to know in advance…

There was something for them to cheer, though: Yorkshire vs Hampshire had been called off, which meant they would not have to drive all the way to Headingley.

Back at The Oval

Laxman and Law took up things after lunch. Another 51 were added before Laxman, trying to go for yet another pull off the veteran Ian Salisbury, top-edged and holed out to Ramprakash. Laxman had scored a 100-ball 100, but surely Lancashire could not pull off another 260?

Croft finally emerged at the fall of that wicket, and the pair raced to the 300-mark. Then, just as tea approached, Jade Dernbach, of all people, struck twice: Law top-edged a hook, only to see Jonathan Batty snaffle a diving catch; and Croft fell in an identical fashion. The score read 307 for 5: another 182; another 37 overs in the final session.

Adams later confessed that it was the most “excruciating afternoon”. The tension became unbearable.

The Bane of Bahawalpur

It came down to Luke Sutton and Glen Chapple. Both men swung their bats lustily, missing some, mistiming some, but generally connecting. Butcher fell back on Murtaza Hussain, his off-spinner from Bahawalpur who had, unfortunately, never gone past Pakistan A: being a contemporary of Saqlain Mushtaq comes with its disadvantages.

A quickfire 51 was added before Murtaza snared Chapple for a 28-ball 29. Jordan got rid of Sutton, they still needed 110, but in Dominic Cork and Sajid Mahmood they still had two big hitters…

Butcher spread his field back further and further, but the pair was not to be restrained. Mahmood slammed 26 in 25 balls with 5 fours before their 46-minute stand of 52 came to an end. Trying to leg-glance Hussain, Mahmood ended up giving Batty his fifth dismissal.

Despite being overshadowed by Mark Ramprakash, Murtaza Hussain’s performance that day was special © Getty Images
Despite being overshadowed by Mark Ramprakash, Murtaza Hussain’s performance that day was special © Getty Images

Oliver Newby hung around before Dernbach bowled a bouncer; Newby went for the hook, and Ramps took his second catch — this time at long-leg. Lancashire still needed another 37.

Cork and Gary Keedy ran frantically between the wickets as pressure mounted. The target came down to 29. Murtaza bowled off a three-pace run up. Cork stepped out and hit one past Murtaza to the fence.

They needed 25 from 29 balls — the final 29 balls of the 2007 Championship.

Murtaza tossed up. Cork swung, aiming for the mid-wicket fence. The ball took the bottom-edge and crashed on to the stumps. A dejected Cork slumped down in dismay as the men of Sussex cheered at Hove…

Somewhere on M23, a car — equipped with a cheque with a reasonable sum printed on it — put the ignition on.

Brief scores:

Sussex 532 (Chris Nash 89, Richard Montgomerie 82, Michael Yardy 52, Chris Adams 74, Robin Martin-Jenkins 99, Chris Liddle 53; Kabir Ali 3 for 79, Daryl Mitchell 3 for 74) beat Worcestershire 213 (Daryl Mitchell 70; Jason Lewry 3 for 44, Mushtaq Ahmed 6 for 93) and 305 (Moeen Ali 85, Gareth Batty 84; Mushtaq Ahmed 7 for 132) by an innings and 14 runs.

Surrey 532 (Mark Ramprakash 196, James Benning 51; Sajid Mahmood 4 for 93) and 295 for 5 decl. (Mark Ramprakash 130) beat Lancashire 234 (VVS Laxman 53; Matthew Nicholson 3 for 30, Chris Jordan 3 for 50) and 464 (VVS Laxman 100, Stuart Law 79; Jade Dernbach 3 for 85, Murtaza Hussain 4 for 126) by 24 runs.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)