Lightning beat the Foxes to top Vitality Blast group
Lancashire Lightning clinched an eighth Vitality Blast victory by five wickets against Leicestershire Foxes to finish top of the North Group table in front an ecstatic 15,196 at Emirates Old Trafford-a new record T20 crowd for a non-Yorkshire match at the ground, the third time this record has been bettered in 2019.
The Lightning will now play Essex Eagles in the Vitality Blast quarter-final at Emirates Durham, Chester-le-Street next Wednesday, 4th September, 7pm start.
A superb bowling and fielding performance was backed up by a scintillating 39 from Alex Davies as the Lightning reached their 163-run target with eight balls to spare to finish top of the North Group table for the fourth time in the T20 competition.
Leicestershire won the toss and batted but, apart from a typically ebullient 39 from opening batsman Mark Cosgrove, the Foxes innings never caught fire. Cosgrove hit seven boundaries (two sixes and five fours) in his 19-ball innings but the rest of the Leicestershire could only manage six more between them.
That was due to an excellent bowling performance from the Lightning, with the spin duo of Matt Parkinson (2-26 from 4 overs) and Glenn Maxwell (1-22 off 4) applying a middle innings squeeze superbly backed up by Richard Gleeson, James Faulkner and Liam Livingstone.
But maybe the key wicket was the first one when Steven Croft exacted revenge for being struck for six first ball by bowling Cosgrove with a ball of fuller length later the same over.
That left the visitors on 44-1 at the end of the fifth over but having taking 11 runs from the first over, Leicestershire failed to register another double runs over in their innings, a testament to the accuracy of the Lightning attack backed up by some superb fielding that also produced four run outs.
Arron Lilley (28), Colin Ackermann (21) and Harry Dearden (24) all made starts but failed to build and the Foxes innings simply stuttered along.
Ackermann reverse swept Parkinson straight into the hands of Faulkner just before the halfway mark of the innings to leave Leicestershire on 79-3 and just 68 runs came from the second half as the Foxes finished on a below par 142-9.
The start of the Lightning reply was explosive with Davies pulling Dieter Klein for 6 over backward square leg to reach 1,000 T20 runs for Lancashire.
Livingstone then hammered consecutive sixes off Gavin Griffiths, the first of which excused itself from the premises and no doubt startled a few Metrolink customers passing by on Brian Statham Way!
The pair had struck eight boundaries between them in posting 54 runs by the end of the 5th over before Livingstone (28 off 22) skied a high catch off Ben Mike, well taken by Lilley at deep square leg.
Croft was caught by Ackermann at cover off Callum Parkinson for 5 but Davies continued to drive Lancashire on towards their target, hitting his second six over long-on off Klein as the Lightning reached the 10-over mark on 89-2 needing 54 more runs.
Davies fell to the first ball of the 11th over, bowled by Parkinson for 39 off 30 balls, and Will Davis accounted for Dane Vilas in the next to give the Foxes some encouragement at 98-4.
Maxwell and Faulkner guided the Lightning steadily to 121-5 to leave 22 needed off 19 when Faulkner was lbw to Lilley for 11.
Then Maxwell pulled Griffiths for 6 over mid-wicket in the 18th over to settle any nerves and consecutive fours by Keaton Jennings clinched victory in the 19th over.
Alex Davies was delighted to have clinched top spot in the Vitality Blast North Group with victory over Leicestershire Foxes.
“The momentum is massive,” he said. “It’s been there throughout the tournament so if we can keep that up it will be key for us moving forward.
And Davies isn’t unduly concerned by having to travel to Durham for the quarter-final.
“We chose to play there,” he said. “We haven’t lost there in seven years and the pitch dimensions are very similar to Emirates Old Trafford. In a way we feel at home there.
The final matches in the South Group provided a dramatic conclusion to the qualifying stages and Davies admitted: “we were watching the end of the matches tonight.
“It could have been a few of them (we might have played). It doesn’t matter who we play, we’ll do our thing and focus on what we do to try and get us through to Finals Day.
It is nine years since Lancashire’s last T20 game against Essex so there will be some unfamiliarity when the teams meet next week but Davies said: “We’ve got a fantastic analyst who has already been looking at any team we might come up against.
“So we’ll study Essex hard and do our thing up at Durham as if we were playing here.”
And despite qualifying for the knock-out stages a few games ago, Davies was delighted to have clinched further victories.
“It shows our professionalism,” he said. “We knew we’d qualified but we wanted to nail down top spot. It didn’t quite go to plan on Monday when we tried a few different things out.
“Today we wanted to get back to our normal template and really hammer Leicester.
“We’ve done well down at Kent in the last two quarter-finals, but we’ve got to treat it (Essex) like another game. We’ve been great all year so we’ll try and stick to the same things that have got us to the quarter-finals.
“One of the boys has stood up and performed in every game so far. We’ve got eight class batters and our bowling has not let us down all year so we’re not worried. The dugout is so calm whenever we lose a wicket because we know someone is going to stand up and win us the game.
“So we’ll prepare for Wednesday as if it’s just another game and do the job.
Davies was pleased to have made a significant contribution tonight.
“In T20 cricket, anything can happen at the top of the order,” he said.
“Me and Liam try to get us off to a start and some days you get out in the first over and some days you get through the powerplay.
Asked what he thought about the six Livingstone hit out of the ground, he laughed: “It was big! But I’m not sure it was as big as my six against Durham!
“We’ll let the fans decide!”
Photos: Barry Mitchell