Francois du Plessis' produced another sparkling limited overs batting display today, this time in the Twenty20 Cup, to keep Lancashire on the winning route.
The 24 year-old South African, with his record 113 not out off 75 balls against Essex in the Friends Provident Trophy still fresh in the memory, calmly amassed a 20-over career best 78 not out off 49 balls to down the Leicestershire Foxes by seven wickets with 21 balls to spare at Grace Road.
Leicestershire had posted a competitive 147-3 thanks in the main to James Allenby’s unbeaten 71 off 54 balls. Lancashire were then reduced to 47-3 in the sixth over, but du Plessis was the dominant partner in an unbroken fourth wicket stand of 104 in one ball short of eleven overs with compatriot Ashwell Prince.
“It was nice to see the boys home in good circumstances,” said du Plessis. “When I came in the deck looked quite slow, so I said to myself ‘make sure you get a partnership going. We are playing well at the moment, and we want to keep our foot on the pedal. Twenty20 is all about momentum. If we can go without losing a game until the quarter finals, that will do us really good.”
Lancashire’s bowlers made a fine start to the match, containing the hosts to just 27-1 from the first six overs of fielding restrictions. Sajid Mahmood bowled 20-over specialist HD Ackerman in his first over, which was a rare wicket maiden in this frenetic form of cricket. The 27 year-old’s first two overs went for just six runs - but in typical Twenty20 fashion he returned at the death to go for 27, including 18 off his third.
Tom Smith was the pick of the Lightning bowlers, returning an impressive analysis of 1-20 from four overs. The all-rounder, who had a brief loan spell at Grace Road last season, bowled James Taylor. All-rounder Steven Croft claimed the other wicket, that of wicketkeeper Paul Nixon for a run a ball 15 in the 13th over.
Leicester reached 89-3 after 15 overs, but Boeta Dippenaar (39 off 25 balls) and Allenby plundered 58 off the last five overs. Allenby crunched six fours and three sixes, while former South African international Dippenaar smashed four fours and one maximum. The pair shared an unbroken fourth wicket stand of 70 in seven overs to record the highest score against Lancashire in the competition so far.
Red Rose openers Smith and Paul Horton hit a boundary apiece off the first over of their reply, then Smith pulled left-arm seamer Harry Gurney for six in the second.
But left-handed Smith (15) was on his way back to the pavilion when he was well caught, one-handed, by Allenby at cover off Gurney in the fourth over. Horton followed in the same over, caught behind by Nixon, to leave the visitors 37-2.
Croft and du Plessis hit two crisp drives in Alex Wyatt’s first over, the fourth over, but then were the subject of a run out mix-up in the next. Du Plessis guided to backward point where Taylor picked up superbly. Croft was stranded halfway down the track when Nixon whipped off the bails to leave Lancashire on 47-3.
But that was as good as it got for the hosts, who will look back at good figures of 2-21 from four overs for left-arm seamer Gurney with heart, because du Plessis spectacularly ran the show.
As aforementioned, there were shades of his brilliant century against Essex in the recent Friends Provident Trophy quarter-final in there, as he bashed 13 fours and two sixes to move the Lightning closer to another quarter final appearance.
Du Plessis and Prince started their partnership slowly, making sure there were no more wobbles, before latching onto some loose home bowling to end the game in double quick-time. At its best, the partnership yielded 91 runs in 45 balls to end the match.
Prince finished 29 not out off 22 balls, including three boundaries. Du Plessis added: “That day (against Essex) gave me a lot of confidence. Knowing that if you just hang in there, there is always more time than you think.”
“We are playing well at the moment, and we want to keep our foot on the pedal,” added du Plessis, who will look to repeat the dose against Derbyshire at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening.
Photos: Simon Pendrigh
(c) Lancashire CCC Ltd