Rarely can an exorcism have been so pleasurable
After the disappointment of the Oval in 2008, Old Trafford's Indoor School in 2009 and Chelmsford twelve months ago, Lancashire Lightning's cricketers honoured one of English cricket most famous county grounds on Monday evening with a display of Twenty20 cricket which justified the faith of the diehards who travelled down to Hove.
Defending a score of 152 for eight, Steven Croft's bowlers and fielders restricted Sussex Sharks to 132 for eight to win their Friends Life t20 quarter-final in some style.
So perhaps it was appropriate that when Lancashire's players gathered in an eleven-man huddle to celebrate their 20-run victory it was sometimes a little difficult to tell who was who. There could have been few more powerful metaphors for a team effort rooted in the ethos that an individual's achievement must always be viewed in the context of a team effort.
Sometimes such collective exultation does not seem ostentatious in the least; it merely seems right.
"We keep getting told that we've got no stars in our side," said Paul Horton, whose unbeaten 45-ball 49 was the largest contribution to Lancashire's first innings score. "So we'll just go out there and win games with no stars. We're flying at the moment. It's all a reward for the lads' hard work in the winter and our togetherness as a group of blokes."
The margin of victory on Monday accurately reflected Lancashire's superiority, especially in the second innings, when an inspired bowling and fielding effort made 152 seem plenty.
Sajid Mahmood got things off to the best of starts when he lulled Lou Vincent into a first-ball waft outside the off stump, Gareth Cross claiming the first of his three victims on what was a good night for the wicketkeeper, who allowed no byes
Nine balls later Lancashire's players were exchanging high fives again after Farveez Maharoof had bowled Ben Brown when the Sussex gloveman stepped across his stumps. Suddenly the Lancashire seamers were able to squeeze a Sussex top order lacking both Luke Wright, who had been ruled out with a knee injury, and a fully-fit Murray Goodwin, who had split the webbing on his hand stopping a fierce drive from Karl Brown.
Although Mahmood's second over went for 16 runs, helped by a Chris Nash boundary off a no-ball and a four off the resultant free hit, most of the other sets of six saw the run-rate climb.
Wickets fell too. Ed Joyce backed up too far and was brilliantly run out for seven by Stephen Moore's direct hit from mid-off , and despite Yardy and Nash adding 41 runs in seven overs for the fourth wicket, the pressure told as Gary Keedy claimed both batsmen's scalps in three balls to reduce Sussex to 73 for five after 12.
First, Nash, beaten by both flight and turn, was stumped for 34; two balls later, Yardy, having made 24, attempted a reverse sweep and was snaffled by a delighted Cross.
A handicapped Goodwin and the big-hitting Rana Naved attempted to rescue the match but it was increasingly clear that it was going to be Lancashire's evening. Goodwin was caught by deep square leg Karl Brown for nine while Rana Naved became the first of two batsmen to be bowled by Junaid Khan in the final over.
Naved hit two sixes and a brace of fours in his 34; Ollie Rayner was yorked for six. The game was up and Red Rose supporters could begin booking their hotels in Birmingham.
Three of the Lancashire bowlers, Maharoof, Khan and Keedy claimed two wickets apiece, while Stephen Parry's four outstanding overs cost just 18 runs. Mahmood, having gone for 17 in one over, deserves credit for conceding only 16 in his other three.
But if the bowlers sealed the victory, it was the batsmen who set it up, particularly Horton, who has now scored 241 runs without being dismssed in three limited-overs innings, and Brown, who bludgeoned four sixes in his 31-ball 44 before holing out at long off, the bowler being the predictably manic Monty Panesar.
Horton's placement and Brown's piledrivers enabled Lancashire to score 61 runs for the fourth wicket in 7.4 overs. More worryingly, the Boltonian's assault on Rayner may have diced the nerves of Palmeira Avenue's well-heeled residents, one or two of whom probably needed a large sharpener or two before recovering their composure.
The key stand between Horton and Brown came either side of two small collapses. The first saw the visitors race to 48 for three in 5.3 overs, despite losing Stephen Moore to the second ball of the game and both Croft (19) and Smith (12) to slower deliveries from seamers.
Once Brown had departed, Horton continued to accumulate runs in unspectacular fashion, while losing four partners in 3.1 overs at the end of the innings. Only Cross, who made 13, reached double figures. Panesar bowled with accuracy and intelligent change of pace to take one for 15, the best analysis of the match. Wayne Parnell collected two for 27.
Lancashire have now won their last ten limited-overs games and, along with Somerset, are still in the running to win three trophies in 2011.
"We'll probably have a hangover tomorrow," admitted Horton on Monday, "and then we'll get back into it. We've got a big match in the CB40 against Essex on Sunday but then every game's a big game now. We're trying to win trophies, so we've a great six weeks of the season left."
Photo (c) PA Images
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