Date: 18th Jul 2018
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SOUTHPORT AND BIRKDALE ENJOY FOUR GREAT DAYS.

Date: 20th July 2016

Lancashire lost a thriller but cricket was the winner.

Anyone who went to one or all of the four days county cricket at Southport and Birkdale this week cannot fail to have been impressed with the cricket, the ground, the people and the occasion. The sunshine certainly helped. The club has received much praise from all quarters for its excellent staging of the game and they certainly did the Liverpool Competition proud. Well done to everyone involved.

We publish below just one of Paul Edwards' end of play (Day 4) reports for ESPNCricinfo  which brilliantly captures the atmosphere and spirit of the game. 

This game ended with small eruptions of blue and yellow joy in front of the pavilion and on the railway side of Trafalgar Road. They were accompanied a larger and more boisterous outburst of triumph from Durham's players in the dugout as Chris Rushworth cover-drove a Kyle Jarvis half-volley to the boundary, thus placing a seal on Durham's two-wicket victory.

But, no, the occasion in its proper sense did not end there. For Paul Collingwood and his players later threw their bags on the coach that had arrived to take them home and told the driver they were staying in Southport. They played cricket with some of Southport and Birkdale most junior players on the outfield and one just wished that Colin Graves, the chairman of the ECB, had been there to see it. Look, one could have said, this is what can happen when you take four-day cricket back to its roots. Now, would you like a pint, Colin?

Having been invited to Southport the Durham players did not overstay their welcome. They won the match, had a few drinks and regaled the Southport and Birkdale members with "Blaydon Races", many, many verses of it, and then "American Pie" and "I'm Gonna Be".

On a golden evening when players made common cause with those who watched them, photographs were taken amid the rich choruses. It made a wonderful tuneful conclusion to the sweetest of weeks. Then the Durham players asked if they could come back to Southport next year.

Suddenly summer is in full sail and she has a following wind.

Of course the eagerness of Durham's players to return may be something to do with the fact of their victory. Yet Lancashire's players were also deeply appreciative of everything that this outground experience had offered them and they will certainly return for the county has a three-year staging agreement at Trafalgar Road.

All spectators can hope is that the match is as stuffed with delights as the 2016 game managed to be. The final day began with the visitors needing 247 to win and when Collingwood's side were 170 for 2, it looked that this might be a match to deviate from the pattern of damp-palmed tension which had characterised games between these sides.

Even when Jack Burnham was leg before to a full length ball from Simon Kerrigan, few reckoned the match was about to be blown off course. After all, Burnham had made 52 and he had looked increasingly comfortable as he lifted both Steven Croft and Kerrigan for sixes.

Lancashire did not look like taking wickets. "Bang, bang, bang," said the players on the ground as they encouraged each other. But it did not happen. Then Keaton Jennings after cutting and pulling his way to 82 off 140 balls in this season when even warm-ups are welcome preludes to success, skied a pull off Tom Smith. The wicketkeeper, Tom Moores, tottered under it, shielded his eyes and clung on. In Smith's next over Michael Richardson perished down the leg side. 175 for 5. Ho hum.

Enter Durham's captain to warm and respectful applause.

For all his 40 years, his 68 Tests and his trademark jig-and-squat as he goes out to bat Paul Collingwood still marches to the wicket with the air of a no-nonsense PE teacher on the way to sort out trouble in the playground. You know the sort, the type who announces himself with: "I don't care who started it lad but I know who's going to finish it."

For nigh on two decades Collingwood has been playing this sort of role in Durham cricket, ending collapses, calming mayhem. But not on this occasion. For he was pinned on the back foot by Smith having made only 4, and when the same bowler had Paul Coughlin quite brilliantly caught by Moores diving to his right, Durham were 195 for 7, still 52 short of victory. This glorious match was back in the hazard.

Moores's third catch was his best but in its way hardly better than that mighty skier which he could hardly see but still pouched to remove Jennings. For his part, Smith was in the middle of an eight-over spell in which he took four wickets for 12 runs and would finish with five for 25.

But it was another 19-year-old in this game filled with promising young cricketers who then share in the stand which all but decided the match. Until he took a couple of wickets on the third afternoon, Adam Hickey had enjoyed - or not enjoyed - a quiet first-class debut, Now, he walked out to join Ben Stokes, who had already deposited Simon Kerrigan over the railway line and into Dover Road.

As Hickey later explained, the two batsmen calmed things down before tea before going on the attack when the players returned. In truth, by this stage, with Durham on 197 for 7, the spectators needed the tea break as much as the players. On the resumption Stokes hit two more sixes over deep midwicket off Kerrigan and Hickey lifted Kyle Jarvis onto the roof of the pavilion with a much mightier blow.

Steven Croft rotated his bowlers but the game was gone. Or was it? Suddenly Hickey called Stokes for a quick single and the England all-rounder was run out for 36 at the bowler's end. Four runs needed. Rushworth dealt with business and another county match at Trafalgar Road was over.

And all this drama followed an morning session which was as tense as was expected. Lancashire savoured the first success as early as the sixth ball of the day when Mark Stoneman played across the line to one from Jarvis which pitched middle and leg only to hold its line and take him on the pad. Durham responded by taking 26 off Nathan Buck's four overs, forcing Croft to call Smith into the attack.

Another good fourth-day crowd was held by the cricket and the ground grew in stillness broken only by the action in the middle. The houses on Harrod Drive became such as might be painted by Hopper, the trees as by Pissarro at Osny or Pontoise.

Necessity, though, benefited Lancashire as Smith squared up Scott Borthwick, whose previous three innings against Lancashire had been 134, 103 not out and 64. The left-hander was caught in the gully by Alviro Petersen for 28 so that more or less qualified as under-achievement.

Failures of any sort have been thin on the ground this extraordinary week. And the thing is that while Southport and Birkdale may be very special, it is not unique. There are many clubs who would welcome first-class counties and all they are looking for is the chance to put on a show.

Outground cricket is enjoyed by spectators and appreciated by players. Amid the entirely understandable desire to maximise the revenue from other formats, someone should think a little more about taking the game back to the people who are its lifeblood.

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