Lancashire Lightning's tense eight-run victory over Surrey Brown Caps in the Pro40 competition provided just the sort of high-pressure cricket Glen Chapple's players needed as they stepped up their preparations for next Tuesday's Twenty20 quarter-final against Somerset.
See the highlights, plus our post-match interview with Stephen Parry now on www.Lancs.TV
Pitted against a bowling attack which included the former Old Trafford leg-spinner Chris Schofield, stand-in skipper Mark Chilton was probably content to see his batsmen muster a total of 221 for 7 on a wicket which was understandably slow, given the little amount of preparation time the last week's weather had allowed groundsman Matt Merchant.
Especially pleasing was the 129-run second-wicket partnership between Tom Smith (54) and Paul Horton (84) which gave the later Old Trafford batsmen precisely the platform they needed to post a defendable total. Horton hit seven fours in his 102-ball innings and again revealed the thoughtful unorthodoxy which has allowed him to prosper in limited-overs cricket this season, while Smith's 72-ball effort offered further confirmation of his development as an all-rounder.
After Schofield had accounted for them both, Smith run out by a fast accurate throw from deep square-leg, and Horton caught and bowled, Steven Croft, Mark Chilton and Gareth Cross all chipped in with useful brief innings which hoisted the Lancashire run rate to a shade above 5.5 an over. Schofield (2-36) was the pick of the Surrey attack, but he was given late assistance from Jade Dernbach (2-46) and the unquenchably aggressive Andre Nel (2-47) as the somewhat routine exchange of wickets for runs took place in the concluding overs.
But as well as Lancashire's batsmen being tested by the Brown Caps attack, the Old Trafford bowlers and fielders were given a severe examination by two of Surrey's top order on a chilly, breezy and intermittently damp Manchester evening. Coming together when Chris Murtagh had been bowled by Sajid Mahmood for five, Michael Brown and Stewart Walters added 146 for the second wicket in 27 overs to leave their side needing 54 off 7.4 overs, a reasonable asking rate in these days of Twenty20 improvisation.
However, Lancashire's bowlers had already begun to throttle the flow of runs and it was man-of-the-match Steven Parry who dismissed both the well-set batsmen. Walters was caught by Croft at deep mid-wicket for 63 (85 balls, four fours) while a straight one accounted for the Burnley-born Brown for 87 (97 balls, seven fours) on an evening when Lancastrians tested Lancashire's cricketers.
Slow left-armer Parry's effort was all the more commendable given that he had to bowl with a wet ball after two brief showers had forced the players off the field. "Obviously getting the wicket of Stewart Walters changed the game because it was always going to be hard for a new man coming in to bat on that wicket and under lights," said the 22-year-old spinner. "I thought Mark Chilton did really well because he just kept changing the bowling and we hung in there and when it did, we pounced on the opposition."
But although Parry was the key wicket-taker, he was also given excellent support from Gary Keedy, many of whose eight overs were bowled when Brown and Walters were going well, and also by Sajid Mahmood and Tom Smith, who both bowled important overs at the death. Indeed, it was Smith who was given the responsibility of bowling the final six deliveries when Surrey needed 12 to win. The seamer responded magnificently, bowling Usman Afzaal and Matthew Spriegel, while conceding just five runs. It must have been a close call for the man of the match award.
"We always knew that if we got one wicket, anything could happen," said Parry. "I thought Tom did brilliantly and Saj is always hard to hit, given the way he changes his pace. It was brilliant to get a winning momentum going into the next game but our tails have been up all season and we're really looking forward to Tuesday's quarter-final which will probably be the biggest game I've ever played in. Somerset are a good side but so are we, and I'm just looking forward to it. The chance to play in a the Twenty20 Finals Day is why you play cricket."
Photo: Simon Pendrigh
(c) Lancashire CCC Ltd