Lancashire Lightning's unbeaten start to their CB40 campaign is over after a thrilling roller-coaster encounter went the way of the Netherlands in Schiedam earlier today by one wicket with two balls to spare.
Cheered on by a healthy travelling contingent at the Excelsior club, the Red Rose, who have already beaten Leicestershire and Essex, lost for the first time in three Group A clashes.
Lancashire were put behind the eight-ball by a remarkable batting collapse as they lost their last eight wickets for just 37 runs in eight and a half overs to slip from a seemingly unassailable position at 199-2 in the 32nd over to 236 all out in the 40th. They then reduced the hosts to 187-8 in their reply before tail-ender Mudassar Bukhari, who manages the Burger King restaurant at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, smashed 36 off 26 balls to take his side to the brink. When he holed out off Stephen Parry in the 38th over, the hosts needed nine to win, which they managed to secure by the skin of their teeth to win for the third time in four matches.
"It was a brilliant game, but just a shame we didn't come out on top. We probably should have, which is disappointing," admitted Lightning skipper Steven Croft, who unusually dropped Bukhari in the middle of his onslaught whilst fielding at deep square-leg. "I thought we were a little bit short in the batting and our bowling and skills in the field were a little bit off. The lad came in and played a great innings at the end, but we still felt we could have finished it off when we got him. "We'll take the positives out of it. We've not played a perfect game yet. We've been a little bit off in all aspects of our game in the first three matches, but we've still won two. There's a lot more to come. Hopefully we'll learn from this."
Stephen Moore top-scored with 77, Croft hit 55, Karl Brown 41 and Ashwell Prince 34 as the visitors made a fine start after Croft's decision to bat first in spinner-friendly conditions, highlighted by 12 of the 19 wickets in the match falling to spin. Moore shared 89 inside 13 overs with Prince for the first wicket and Croft and Brown added 72 inside 12 for the third. But things went downhill rapidly as Australian-born Michael Swart took 4-40 with his off-spinners, including the wickets of Brown and Paul Horton in the 32nd to begin the slide.
Swart, the professional at Denton this summer, then got his side ahead of the rate in their chase by crashing seven fours in 41 off 30 balls. He and Stephan Myburgh (34) shared 83 for the first wicket inside 13 overs, but Lancashire's spin trio of Parry, Gary Keedy and Croft gradually turned the contest as they also struggled having been well placed at 163-3 in the 27th over.
Parry led the way with 4-29 from eight, while Keedy returned 1-30 and skipper Croft 2-46. Parry had Swart caught at cover by a diving Moore before returning to take the wickets of Wesley Barresi and Peter Borren within three balls of his second spell starting as the score soon became 163-5. Sajid Mahmood and Ajmal Shahzad struck to seemingly put the game to bed, but Bukhari's three fours and two sixes helped to turn the tide before Malik hit the winning runs.
Croft added: "We thought 250 was par. But, from being in such a good position, we should have easily got that. "The collapse was disappointing because there were a few soft dismissals. We knew what the pitch was doing, it was quite low and slow. We could have maybe knocked it around a little instead of clearing the ropes, which was very hard to do for most of the batsmen."
Lancashire return to English soil tomorrow to face Durham in the LV= County Championship at the Riverside on Wednesday.