It was hard to know how to feel about Durham’s County Championship defeat to Lancashire, other than exhausted.
Two sides deep in the relegation mire produced a pulsating finish which was another brilliant advert for four-day cricket.
Considering Lancashire’s target was so straightforward on paper – just 107 runs in 36 overs – that was of immense credit to Durham.
Brilliant bowling from John Hastings and Ben Stokes meant they made it with just two balls to spare.
Yet all Durham returned home with was five points and a place in the relegation zone. Having reduced their nervous hosts to 90-9, it was a bitter disappointment.
Early in yesterday’s final session, Durham looked like a side in the doldrums.
They had one batsman run out charging into an opposition fielder and another bowled around his legs from over the wicket in setting a target which did not look enough but very nearly was.
So they could have done without Hastings overstepping the crease as he bowled Luis Reece without a run on the board or Ryan Buckley increasing Lancashire’s score from 5-1 to 11-1 with a wild throw from fine leg.
At that stage it was hard to imagine they would go so close to a win.
YetHastings and Stokes are competitors for whom the impossible is just a challenge.
Chris Rushworth set the ball rolling when Reece’s airy drive found Phil Mustard’s gloves.
The wicketkeeper’s second catch was terrificas Hastings moved the ball in late to Usman Khawaja.
When Rushworth pinned Paul Horton lbw, the hosts were 22-3 – cause for alarm, but no more.
Either side of another Rushworth over, Hastings put himself on a hat-trick.
Steven Croft thought the ball came off arm, not glove, before Scott Borthwick caught it, but Ashwell Prince’s lbw looked more clear-cut. Four wickets had fallen for 16 runs in 35 deliveries.
Not for the last time, Tom Smith frustrated the big Australian.
He would also edge him just wide of Stokes at leg slip on 19.
Borthwick thought he had the left-hander brilliantly caught-and-bowled on 23, but the umpires could not be sure the ball had carried.
It is hard to keep Stokes out of games this dramatic and Lancashire could not.
A low ball ended the day’s longest partnership – just 43 – when it had Alex Davies lbw. Two balls later a hint of inswing bowled Stephen Parry. Another low bouncer bowled Glenn Chapple, Stokes’ third victim in seven deliveries. At 89-8, things were starting to get interesting.
Smith took a single from the first ball of Hastings’ second spell and it cost the wicket of Tom Bailey, looping a leading edge to mid-off with 17 needed.
After the 32nd over was a Stokes maiden – the sides had played through a very sharp shower earlier – a draw and a tie came into the equation.
With four needed, Stokes started the final with a full ball but Simon Kerrigan squeezed it out for two runs. Two balls later he scrambled a single to level the scores.
At the moment of victory Smith was diving into the dustbowl pitch, relieved to see Keaton Jennings’ throw from midwicket miss the stumps. There was no way the match could not have had a routine finish.
Inevitably thoughts on the way home will have turned to what Durham could have done better and yesterday it was their batting.
Durham have had their fair share of misfortune at Old Trafford.
On a pitch made for the spinners, and passed fit by the inspector because the patches in question were off the “protected area” they lost one of theirs – Buckley – to a virus for almost all of Lancashire’s first innings.
Lady Luck, though, helps those who help themselves - and Durham simply did not do that enough.
It was clear from the second over batting would be tricky, a brute of a delivery turning into Borthwick and shot along the ground for byes.
The left-hander might have been caught for 12. Lancashire thought he had been but square leg umpire Russell Evans thought Davies scooped the ball off the ground.
The tensions showed at the end of the over. What made it more fraught for Durham was the fact Jennings, one of their most effective anchormen, had been cut adrift by then, lbw playing back to Kerrigan.
Borthwick pulled the boundary which put Durham in front but soon he was trapped lbw by a ball which kept low from Chapple and struck, it seemed, outside off stump.
Michael Richardson was also lbw after a second appeal in as many deliveries.
Stokes and Mustard turned the ball to short leg. Croft caught the first, but was unable to react in time to the second, but Mustard was soon bowled around his legs by Parry.
It was the slow left-armer’s first Divsion One wicket in five years.
So it was left to Brigadier Block. Collingwood may love rearguard actions but he needed someone at the other end.
In launching Parry for a straight six he showed he was not prepared to be passive, but his team-mates found ways of getting out.
Calum MacLeod was run out colliding with Kerrigan. The bowler’s presence made the difference, but unwittingly so.
MacLeod had three options: veer left and out of the way of the ball, plough ahead and risk a slap on the wrist for running down the wicket or go right and risk the ball hitting his padded body, rather than the stumps. Even had Kerrigan not been to his left, it was the worst option.
Hastings followed an outswinger and was caught behind.
Buckley hung around for 42 balls. His edge evaded Prince at leg slip but later in the over he picked out Croft, the other side of the wicketkeeper.
Collingwood tried to keep the strike from Rushworth but was unable to find a gap from the last ball of the 77th over and the tailender was bowled from the following delivery.