Lancashire ended their FP t20 group campaign with a thoroughly convincing win against Northants and will face Sussex in the quarter-finals
When some of the details of Lancashire Lightning's comprehensive 64-run victory over Northamptonshire Steelbacks on Friday night have been forgotten, one image should remain with home supporters long into the winter.
It is of two or three hundred diners at the Lancashire Cricket Board's OSCAs (Outstanding Service to Cricket Awards) evening standing on The Point balcony watching Glen Chapple's team produce yet another fine performance in a season which is rapidly becoming more memorable with almost every game that is played.
From a building whose revenue should help to secure the county's future, the people whose work fosters the development of club and league cricket could see one of the reasons why they give up so much of their valuable time.
Those attending the LCB's bash were later entertained by Geoff Miller, and maybe the National Selector might also have enjoyed seeing a little of the action in the middle at Old Trafford as Lancashire won their sixth successive Friends Life t20 match and booked themselves a quarter-final against Sussex on August 6th.
Not the least of the attractions on show was the batting of Karl Brown and Steven Croft, both of whom made 51 as Chapple's side posted 188 for five, their highest t20 total at Old Trafford this season.
Brown had begun the fun with opening partner Stephen Moore as the pair scored 78 runs off 8.5 overs before Moore was run out for a 29-ball 41 when he slipped turning for a second run. Man of the Match Brown continued to bat fluently, though, and he went from 41 to 51 with an imperious cover drive and a casual six over square leg off Lee Daggett.
Unfortunately, having reached the half-century mark in a t20 match for the second time this season, the Bolton-born batsman chipped his next delivery straight to Johan Botha at cover and Paul Horton followed quickly after, bowled by Botha for a second-ball duck.
The home side was then briefly becalmed and Gareth Cross holed out in front of the pavilion off Luke Evans for seven, but a score of 123 for four after 15.5 overs only provided Sajid Mahmood and Steven Croft with a platform from which to launch the most sustained attacking batting of the match
Mahmood hit both his first and third balls for six and he and Croft were soon scoring at will, adding 54 runs for the fifth wicket in just 22 frenetic balls before Mahmood was bowled by Lee Daggett for a nine-ball 20 in the final over.
Croft completed a 33-ball 50 - his fourth in six t20 visits - off the final delivery of the innings. Daggett finished with two for 24, but James Middlebrook, with nought for 23, was the Steelbacks' best bowler.
The second half of the contest was, frankly, low-key as it quickly became apparent that Northants lacked the batting firepower to cope with a Lancashire attack which, for the first time since June 2nd, featured club captain Glen Chapple.
The 37-year-old skipper took one for 17 on his return from injury and confirmed his fitness ahead of next week's Roses Match
Chasing a distant 189, Northamptonshire openers Rob White and Stephen Peters added 35 in six overs, but Chapple and Steven Parry removed both batsmen, courtesy of athletic catches by Sajid Mahmood at third man and Steven Moore at midwicket.
Steelbacks batsmen Johan Botha and Alex Wakely overhauled the paltry 47 their side had managed against Durham 24 hours previously, but even their third-wicket stand of 40 off 29 balls only put their side further behind required rate.
Gary Keedy had Botha caught at long off by Paul Horton for 18 but even by then Northamptonshire had reached the halfway point of their innings on 65 for three, needing 124 to win.
That rate climbed very quickly as Gareth Cross ran out top scorer Alex Wakely for 28 and Keedy trapped Ben Howgego lbw for three. Junaid Khan yorked Niall O'Brien for 21 in the penultimate over by which stage the match had long sinced ceased to be a meaningful contest.
But Mahmood claimed a first success when James Middlebrook hit him straight to Croft at deep midwicket and the Steelbacks' effort ended on a total of 124 for seven. Gary Keedy finished with two for 26 but the fact that Parry was the most expensive bowler with one for 30 reflects the ease of Lancashire's win.
It was therefore little surprise that Chapple was both a relieved and contented man after the match.
"For me it was quite important to have a game and bowl well, which I think he did." he said. "The lads played really well to put that score on the board and then they maintained all the discipline, professionalism and aggression they've shown throughout the tournament.
"To be honest I tried to put a bit of pressure on myself because it's important that when you've missed so many games you prove to yourself that you're ready to do the job."
Lancashire's success leaves them with a quarter-final at Hove, provisionally set for Saturday August 6th (although dates and times have yet to be confirmed by ECB) to be sandwiched between a home CB40 game against Gloucestershire on the previous day and a friendly against Sri Lanka A, also at Old Trafford, on the following Monday.
"We know which the big game there is and we'll have to manage our squad the best we can," said Chapple. "Sussex are a good team but we're okay with that. I wasn't really bothered about who we got to be honest because it's about us and what we can do on the field. If we perform as we have done in the last six games, we can beat anyone."
Photo (c) Simon Pendrigh
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