The grainy video footage does little to capture the ambience of the moment
A passionately-packed arena containing two old rivals, pitting their collective skill against one another in a fast-paced battle – a post modern gladiatorial exchange of roses red and white.
A former captain of his nation is at the crease, poised in anticipation of sending the next ball he encounters over the boundary ropes for a mammoth six. Indeed, as the delivery approaches him, he connects with a resonant thud, and the solid white sphere hurtles towards to its intended destination with a seemingly inexorable velocity.
However, with leopard-like agility, a red-rose hue leaps at an improbable height, and at an equally incongruent angle, clasps the orbiting object. Pathos suddenly descends on the originator, whose physiognomy portrays a fusion of perplexity and regret, while the hero-of-the-moment lies on the verdant battleground. With arms outstretched, he gently absorbs the euphoria he has generated.
Steven Croft’s sensational catch to dismiss the former Ashes winning captain Michael Vaughan was arguably the moment of Lancashire Lightning’s exciting yet ultimately frustrating t20 campaign last season. That it happened in the opening fixture of the tournament, which played a significant part in sealing a win against their rivals, does not detract from a memorable campaign that yielded eight victories from ten games.
Widely acknowledged as being one of the best teams in that form of the game, Lightning were undone at the quarter-final stage when adverse weather ensured that the game against Somerset Sabres went to a bowl-out. Less said the better!
Croft, an all-round cricketer whose adroitness in all forms of the game is apparent, is a connoisseur of twenty-over cricket.
He said: “When I initially got into the first team it was in the t20 side. I’ve always liked to play in it and I’ve not missed a game in three years.
“I like to get involved in all aspects of cricket: batting, bowling and fielding and that suits the t20 game.
“It always helps if you can bat and bowl a bit and if something doesn’t come off on the day you can always try and peg it back with another one. It’s happened in the past where I’ve done well with the bat or ball early on and continued it vice-versa later in the game.
“We were probably one of the best teams in it last year and to go out of such a big competition on a bowl-out was quite tough to take it.”
For this season, the format has changed and Blackpool-born Croft believes momentum, just as it was last season, will be crucial to the Red Rose’s fortunes.
“There are 16 games this year, so it's important to get on a roll. We did it last year in one-day cricket and didn’t look back.”
It is perhaps not surprising to discover that world-class all-rounders, our very own ‘Freddie’ Flintoff and South Africa’s Jacques Kallis, are the cricketers that inspired Croft in his younger days.
“When I first started to take cricket seriously I was inspired by Fred because he was a local lad and got his chance when he was fairly young. I also looked up to people like Jacques Kallis. Generally, those who made an impact in the game and were capable of taking a crucial wicket or hitting that big six at the end of the game - I wanted to try and emulate those type of player.”
Recalling his catch against Yorkshire last season, he confesses to having watched it, along with 25,000 other people, on YouTube.
“I’ve seen it a couple of times,” he said. “My friends tell me Vaughan didn’t play much after that. I always enjoy playing in Roses games at a packed Old Trafford and that catch will always stick in my mind.”
Photos: Simon Pendrigh, Peakpix Digital Images
(c) Lancashire CCC Ltd