Lancashire are on the cusp of elimination from the Clydesdale Bank 40 competition after losing a thrilling clash against Essex.
The Eagles triumphed in the last over at Old Trafford, winning by six wickets with two balls to spare.
Karl Brown, 101 not out off 86 balls, scored a magnificent maiden one-day hundred, and did not deserve to finish on the losing side.
But Mark Pettini scored an equally impressive ton in response to the Lightning’s 257-4, proving the point that this was a batsman’s game on a good Old Trafford track.
It looked as if the Red Rose county would be celebrating an eleventh win from 12 one-day matches right up until the closing stages because Essex faced a tall order of getting 114 off the last 66 balls even though they had eight wickets in hand.
But Pettini, who finished with 104 off 101 balls, shared a crucial third-wicket stand of 111 from 14 overs with former England man Owais Shah, whose aggressive 75 off 56 balls was a key factor in swinging the contest.
“We gave it 100 percent, but it wasn’t quite enough,” said Brown. “I’m disappointed that I will be looking back at my century as a loss rather than a win, although I was really happy with the way I played.
“A few of the lads are in good nick. That is only a good thing going into the next few games.”
Both innings took a similar path in that a platform was built by the top order before a marked increase in tempo in the latter stages.
Brown and Gareth Cross shared an unbroken 119 in the last 15 overs of the Lancashire innings for the fifth wicket, amassing a whopping 80 runs off the last six overs.
Cross finished with 58 not out off 51 balls, including three sixes and a four, while the platform had been built by Stephen Moore’s 69 off 67 balls at the top of the order.
He shared 84 with Brown, who hit ten fours and a six, for the third wicket before falling as one of two victims for England all-rounder Ravi Bopara, who also got captain Steven Croft.
Cross hit Graham Napier for two leg-side sixes, both parried over the fence by Chris Wright and Adam Wheater, and the wicketkeeper’s contribution helped to give his side some valuable momentum.
Essex started their chase solidly, although they seemed to be getting further and further behind the race as Lancashire squeezed effectively thanks to the likes of Gary Keedy, who finished with two wickets, Farveez Maharoof and Stephen Parry.
Oliver Newby bowled Wheater early on, but Pettini and Bopara (39) shared 88 inside 17 overs for the second wicket to build a platform like Moore and Brown had done earlier.
And, despite it looking like a tall order when Bopara was bowled as he attempted to late cut Keedy, their contribution proved to be crucial.
At its toughest, the Eagles needed 114 from eleven overs to move level on 13 points with second placed Nottinghamshire after ten Group C matches. But Pettini and Shah, in particular, motored along.
Lancashire’s bowlers were not as disciplined as they have been in previous matches, and the Essex pair found their rhythm.
They hit a total of 12 fours and three sixes between – and, even though they both fell in the last three overs, the right-handers had done enough.
Keedy had Pettini comfortably stumped by Cross in the 38th before Newby also picked up his second wicket in the last over when Shah chipped him to Tom Smith at cover.
But, with Sajid Mahmood bowling two no-balls in the penultimate over, which went for 18, their wickets were to no avail as Ryan ten Doeschate hit the winning runs.
Brown added: “Right up until the last four overs we were favourites, but we have to give credit to them. Owais Shah came and played a blinder. If he hadn’t done that, we probably would have won.
“It’s hard to take. Everyone is gutted to be honest. We were up for it, we went in with a lot of confidence, ran them very close and on another day we probably would have won.”
Lancashire simply have to win their last two Group C fixtures, but even then it is unlikely to be enough for them to finish the campaign as the best second place finisher from the three groups.
Photo (c) Simon Pendrigh
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