The county would have put themselves in the driving seat for only a third title in 126 years with victory against Lancashire at Liverpool, writes JAMIE BOWMAN.
But a nerve-wracking one-wicket loss has instead left the Red Rose county sweating on Warwickshire’s game with Somerset which finishes today.
Asked to chase 196 for victory, Lancashire lost their ninth wicket on 193 – Crane claiming 5-41 – before squeezing home to end Hampshire’s hopes of only a third title in 126 years.
‘It really hurts - we said we'd keep fighting to the end and that's what we did and I'm proud of the team and everyone for sticking with it,’ said Crane.
‘Jesus, it can be a cruel game sometimes - we were a couple of inches away from winning the Championship and that's tough to take at the minute.
‘Bowling in the fourth innings is kind of what I'm in the side for if needed and it's an honour - every run was crucial and at times it felt like it was a big score we had, but the wicket got better as the game went on.
‘It's tough to take but once the dust settles I would've rather have been in this position than have played in dead rubbers at the end of the season.
‘We have put a lot of effort and sacrifice into this season along with blood, sweat and tears and I felt we deserved to be one of the best teams in the competition.
‘We just came up short on the day and that is how it is sometimes.’
Amid huge tension, Lancashire skipper Dane Vilas swept Liam Dawson for the winning runs at Aigburth to clinch a match that was compelling right from the off.
‘I was so focused on making sure we got the victory because I knew how much it meant to the guys upstairs watching - if I had been in the same position I would've been chewing my nails off,’ Vilas said.
‘Parky (last man Matt Parkinson) was never going to get out to a leg spinner being the type of man that he is, but it was incredibly tense because Mason (Crane) bowled incredibly well and he was asking some huge questions.
‘To put ourselves in a position where we could potentially win the County Championship is massive and you don't get these opportunities that often as players. I'm privileged and honoured that I could be there to get us over the line.
‘The effort that we've shown throughout the whole season has meant everybody has stepped up at some stage - all the batters have got a hundred and that's what we want from a team, we don't want individuals to dominate.
‘Everyone who comes in at some stage has to put up their hand during the season at some point.
‘We've created that culture and that environment where we drive each other to do well.’
Warwickshire are one powerful day’s cricket away from lifting the title after a strong fightback against Somerset on the third day at Edgbaston.
Lancashire’s amazing win has left the Bears with a very simple equation: Victory over Somerset will bring the title to Edgbaston for the eighth time in the club’s history.
The equation is simple, but forcing victory will be a far from simple business for Will Rhodes’ side on an excellent batting pitch.
They closed the third day on 179-1 – 157 ahead - so need to press on briskly with the bat on day four to give themselves time to try to take 10 wickets on a batter-friendly surface.
The title-chasers spent the first two sessions of the third day in the dirt as Somerset, replying to 367, gritted onward from their overnight 239-5 to reach 389.