Fast bowler Kabir Ali was the Red Rose hero as the Lightning secured the Friends Life t20 win they so desperately needed against Leicestershire Foxes at Emirates Old Trafford today - but only just.
The new signing from Hampshire helped to clinch a nervy four-run win when the visitors needed five to win off the last ball in their pursuit of 156, bowled by New Zealander Mitchell McClenaghan.
Ali’s final over, the penultimate of the match, was the game-breaker after Simon Katich had scored an excellent unbeaten 62 off 43 balls to underpin a home total of 155-4.
Greg Smith had put his side within sight of victory, needing 21 off the last two overs with six wickets in hand.
But the 32-year-old Ali took two wickets, including Smith for 84 off 66 balls, and conceded only five runs.
It left McClenaghan, who had earlier picked up two wickets himself, defending 16 off the last over. And although Michael Thornely dumped the penultimate ball of the match over cow corner for six, the Kiwi quick held his nerve as Thornely was run out by Gareth Cross as the Foxes finished 151-7.
It means that ahead of Friday’s home match with Derbyshire, the Lightning have won two from five matches and have five points to their name.
"It was another tight game, but this time we were on the right side of the result, which is good,” said Ali after Friday night’s tie against Yorkshire at Headingley.
"Twenty20's a tricky game because the boundaries are quite small and the guys swing pretty hard. You've got to back yourself to deliver your skills, and we did a good job of it today.
"To be honest we've played some good cricket, and there's been some close games. Luckily for us we've finished on the right result. It was a big game for us that we needed to win. We've played five games, and we've won two and a half now.
"It's a funny old game. With a couple of wins and a couple of losses you're in and out of the competition. We've got a big win today. Hopefully that will set us up nicely for the next couple of games.
"The second-last over is always a tricky one to bowl because you've got to leave enough runs for the guy following you at the other end. Thankfully for me it went pretty nicely and picked up two wickets, which was the big thing. Obviously Mitch bowled well at the end to get us over the line.”
Leicester spinners Jigar Naik and Bangladesh international left-armer Shakib Al Hasan were excellent for 0-19 and 1-23 respectively to restrict the damage after the Lightning had raced out of the blocks to reach 43-0 after four overs following stand-in captain Steven Croft’s decision to bat first.
Stephen Moore was run out following a mix-up with Karl Brown, who later advanced to Shakib and was stumped to leave the hosts at 73-3 in the ninth.
Brown had slog-swept a huge six off left-arm seamer Rob Taylor that almost cleared one of the new two-tiered stands, and Katich hit his only six over mid-wicket off Josh Cobb late in the innings to push Lancs up beyond 150.
Despite losing three wickets inside the first 10 overs of their chase, Leicestershire were always in touch with the win as long as Smith remained at the crease. But when he offered a sharp low chance to a diving Ashwell Prince at mid-on off Ali in the 19th, their chances were severely undermined.
Taylor also getting caught at mid-on by Arron Lilley later in the over was a further body blow to them, and thankfully one they could not recover from.
Earlier in the innings, Lancashire spinners Stephen Parry and Lilley were also excellent. Parry finished with 1-23 from four.
Photo (c) Simon Pendrigh