Lancashire and Middlesex’s dramatic scrap to avoid relegation from LV= Division One will extend into the final day of the season after the hosts kept the contest alive at Old Trafford.
Lancashire captain Glen Chapple scrambled the vital third batting point on a cloudy morning, and stopped the Londoners earning one with the ball, before immediately declaring on 302 for eight.
His team therefore retained the chance to survive at their opponents’ expense – but can do so only by winning this last fixture.
Any other outcome will mean Lancashire return to Division Two after all, only a year after their promotion as table-toppers.
When bad light brought a slightly early close, after Middlesex’s England opener Sam Robson had returned to form with 75, the visitors were 202 for four – but only 114 in front.
Hampshire will be joining either Lancashire or Middlesex in Division One next summer, after being promoted as champions with a victory over Glamorgan at Cardiff on an eventful penultimate day of the season in the second tier.
No sooner had Essex beaten Worcestershire, already up, by an innings in mid-afternoon at Chelmsford than Hampshire also saw off Glamorgan inside three days by 291 runs to reclaim promotion – and for good measure, oust the Pears at the top.
Hampshire declared on 258 for nine, setting their hosts a notional 444 to win.
As in the first innings, the Welsh batting proved well short as they subsided principally against James Tomlinson (six for 48) to 152 all out in just 33.4 overs.
Consolation came for Glamorgan in all-rounder Jim Allenby’s career-best six for 54 – for a maiden 10-wicket match haul – and a defiant 59 on debut for teenager Aneurin Donald.
Essex had occupied the second promotion spot on sufferance for barely an hour, after beating the long-time table-toppers by an innings and 92 runs.
Worcestershire, 113 for two overnight but up against it already after conceding a huge first-innings deficit, mustered 255 all out thanks principally to their England all-rounder Moeen Ali (98).
Graham Napier (five for 54) saw off Moeen, one of three wickets in five balls for him.
Then only a ninth-wicket stand of 91 between Brett D’Oliveira and Jack Shantry delayed the inevitable – but despite losing top spot, it was still the visitors who had by far the most to smile about.
Back up in Division One, Warwickshire celebrated runners-up spot with an innings-and-13-run win at home to Durham.
Only five days after losing out on a domestic limited-overs double to the same opponents in last weekend’s Royal London Cup Lord’s final, they were always in control this time.
They established a first-innings lead of 218, despite another fine performance form Chris Rushworth (six for 100) – who took one of the two home wickets to fall on day three in a total of 429 all out.
Durham were then unable to even make the Bears bat again, descending to 215 all out – with Keith Barker and Jeetan Patel sharing six wickets.
Champions Yorkshire are in danger of ending their campaign in anti-climax.
Somerset’s 437 all out gave them a lead of 184 at Headingley, despite Steve Patterson’s four for 54 and Adil Rashid’s four for 116.
Yorkshire closed early in poor light, on 148 for two.
Sussex are hoping to finish third, ahead of Nottinghamshire, and will do so if they can beat long-relegated Northamptonshire at Wantage Road.
They established a first-innings lead of 74, Rob Keogh (129) adding another 25 to his overnight tally before he was last to go in a total of 294 – and Steve Magoffin finished with five for 51.
Opener Luke Wells (91no) then helped to augment the advantage on 209 for three before play ended early because of bad light.
The outstanding individual performance of the final round of matches belongs to Derbyshire opener Ben Slater, in a landslide Division Two victory at home to Leicestershire.
Slater followed up his maiden first-class hundred in the first innings with 119 in the second, as Derbyshire piled up 372 for three declared.
The left-hander’s hundred came in in a painstaking 251 balls, while Derbyshire’s India Test star Cheteshwar Pujara (100no) operated at a quicker tempo – hitting 15 fours and a six from 115 deliveries.
Slater and captain Wayne Madsen (69) could add only four runs to their overnight stand.
But hapless wooden-spoon club Leicestershire were nonetheless already on course to end their second successive season without a single win – and duly did so, bowled out for just 112 in under 30 overs to lose this time by 408 runs as Mark Footitt (five for 34) ended his prolific wicket-taking summer with another notable haul.
Kent will do well to avoid ending their season on a low too, after being set in implausible 448 to beat Gloucestershire at Canterbury.
Gloucestershire turned 208 for two into a teatime 432 all out, thanks to their departing captain Alex Gidman’s 140 off 178 balls.
Will Tavare (105) added only four to his second-day century. But Gidman took over, despite David Griffiths’ career-best six for 63 and four for 90 too for much-travelled seamer Mitch Claydon.
Kent then struggled to 95 for four at stumps.