Lancashire's Clydesdale Bank 40 hopes finally disappeared on Monday evening when Paul Horton's young team lost to Somerset by 115 runs.
Needing 246 to beat Marcus Trescothick's men, Lancashire were bowled out for 130 in 29.4 overs. The writing was lost on the wall in true Belshazzar style after Lightning lost their first three wickets for seven runs in 5.1 overs.
That triple blow had crippled Lancashire's reply even before Murali Kartik, arguably Somerset's best bowler, was introduced into the attack. However the ex-Lancashire slow left-armer extracted prodigious turn from the used wicket and had an immediate impact, bowling Horton off pad and bat for 15 and finishing with figures of four for 30 from eight overs.
Almost all the Old Trafford top order struggled to cope with an attack keen to make up for their disappointment in Saturday's final of the Friends Provident t20. Tom Smith lost his middle stump attempting to hit Alfonso Thomas over cover, Steven Croft edged Ben Phillips to Craig Kieswetter and Karl Brown's back foot drive off the same bowler only found a diving Marcus Trescothick's safe hands at cover.
Given the skill and penetration of Kartik there could be little chance of a revival from that parlous 23 for three, although six batsmen reached double figures and Kyle Hogg redeemed a tough day a little by top scoring with 22.
The victory leaves Somerset with eight wins out of eight in the CB40; they are clearly well placed to reach the last four. Lancashire, who have now lost six of their ten games, have "dead" games against the Unicorns and Worcestershire to come.
In the first innings of the game Lightning fell foul of the Somerset batsmen James Hildreth and Jos Buttler in prime form. Yet after 29 overs, Horton's bowlers will probably have been pleased to have restricted the West Country team to 146 for three. But the dismissal of Nick Compton, caught by short fine leg Gary Montgomery attempting to scoop Luke Procter, only brought Buttler to the wicket.
It quickly became clear that the slightly diffident young man who made his Championship debut against Lancashire last September had developed into a supremely confident cricketer. In partnership with man of the match Hildreth, Buttler added an unbroken 98 for the fifth wicket in 10.4 overs, the No5 finishing with 64 not out off just 37 balls, an innings which included seven fours and two sixes. The first of these, off Hogg, landed with a thud in the lower reaches of the Sir Ian Botham Stand; it seemed for a moment not so much a cricket shot as an act of oblation and a declaration of future intent.
Lancashire had two chances to dismiss the 19-year-old but Hogg dropped both chances at extra-cover, the first when Buttler had made 14, the second when he was on 46. Neither belonged in the elementary category but both should have been taken. At the other end, Hildreth was occasionally overshadowed by his partner but he too showed that he is in wonderful nick and his 72 not out took his CB40 aggregate for 2010 to 439 runs at an average of 109.75.
Every member of Horton's attack stuck to their task well in the face of this onslaught and some of the groundfielding was outstanding. Indeed, the events of the last ten or so overs partly obscured the good cricket played by Lancashire in the first ten overs of the game when both Kieswetter and Trescothick were dismissed cheaply.
Kieswetter departed for 12 in the fifth over when he drove Hogg straight to Gareth Cross at cover and Trescothick was brilliantly caught by Gary Keedy, who ran back from mid on while keeping his eyes on the towering skier before clutching on to a superb left-handed catch. Somerset's dismay at the removal of their marquee attractions was compounded when Zander de Bruyn top edged a sweep off Keedy and gave Sutton the easiest of catches.
With the home side poorly placed on 68 for three in 16th over Horton and his bowlers could feel well pleased with themselves but Compton and Hildreth reapired some of the damage by adding 79 in 13.5 overs, the former Middlesex batsman making a polished 59 off 68 balls. That partnership, though, was the only the prelude to brutal carnage in which all the Lightning bowlers suffered.
Hogg, Smith, Keedy and Procter all claimed a wicket apiece and Gary Montgomery marked his competitive debut with a respectable five overs costing 29 runs.
Paul Edwards at Taunton
Photo: Simon Pendrigh, Peakpix Digital Images
(c) Lancashire CCC Ltd