Match Preview: Lancashire Lightning vs Durham
Having secured qualification, the Lightning are chasing a home quarter-final starting with the visit of Durham this afternoon
Following qualification for the quarter-finals for the 13th time in 18 years since the competition’s inception in 2003, Lancashire will now turn their attention to securing a home tie in the last eight.
And things are looking promising on that front ahead of Durham's visit this afternoon (4pm start).
The Red Rose won their fifth game in eight last night, against Yorkshire in thrilling fashion at Emirates Old Trafford, to move to 12 points.
They are second in the North Group, two points behind leaders Nottinghamshire Outlaws with two games to play. Top spot in each of the three groups will secure a home quarter, as will the best second-placed finisher from the North, Central and South.
At present, Lancashire are the best team in second, three points ahead of Northants Steelbacks (Central) and two clear of Kent Spitfires (South). The Lightning have a better net run-rate than both counties, the first separator for teams finishing on level points.
However, today’s opponents Durham are in buoyant mood themselves having won their last three games, most recently against Yorkshire at Headingley on Wednesday, to maintain their hopes of qualification.
With Lancs and Notts out of sight, they can only advance to the last eight as one of the best two third-placed teams.
Jos Buttler, who has flown to the UAE for IPL duty following the conclusion of England's international summer, will be unavailable for selection.
Richard Gleeson, who has not played since the second round Bob Willis Trophy game at Durham (August 8-10), continues to miss out due to a back injury, as does Keaton Jennings, who suffered a calf injury against Nottinghamshire last Friday.
Saqib Mahmood returned from England white ball duty to face Yorkshire last night - and defended 12 off the last over to seal victory - and he will be available to Glen Chapple and Dane Vilas for the rest of the summer.
It looks likely Durham will not have fast bowler Mark Wood available despite the end of England’s international summer. He has not been named in their squad, but could always be a late addition.
After a poor start, including a heavy defeat against Lancashire at Emirates Riverside on the opening day of the competition last month, Durham have recovered impressively to keep their hopes of silverware alive.
The Vitality Blast runners-up in 2016 have beaten Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Yorkshire in the last week, and all convincingly too.
They realistically need to win their last two games, today and against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge on Sunday, to have any chance of sneaking into the quarter-finals through the back door.
Opening batsman Alex Lees (270 runs from seven innings) leads the way for them, and is amongst the competition’s most prolific batsmen this season. His opening partner Graham Clark (248) has also impressed.
Hard-hitting all-rounder Ben Raine has been elevated to number three in the order during the last week and has contributed to their upturn in form with scores of 71, 50 not out and 23.
With the ball, seamers Matty Potts and Paul Coughlin have claimed 10 wickets apiece. Both took three in Wednesday’s win at Yorkshire, when the visitors defended a 148 target by bowling their hosts out for 104.
Keaton Jennings scored his maiden T20 century to haunt former club Durham as Lancashire got off to a record-breaking start to this season’s Vitality Blast at Emirates Riverside (27 August).
Jennings, promoted to open in Liam Livingstone’s absence, put the home side's attack to the sword with an outstanding 108, sharing a record-breaking opening stand of 170 with Alex Davies of 170.
He blasted 10 fours and three sixes to reach three figures for the first time, underpinning a 190/3 total.
The 170-stand with Davies (65) was Lancashire’s highest for any wicket in the history of the Blast.
In reply, Durham slipped to 11/2 before opener Alex Lees resisted with 51. But Tom Bailey (2/22 from three overs) and Matthew Parkinson claimed two wickets apiece as the hosts finished on a respectable 163/7, losing by 27 runs.
WHAT THEY SAID
It is no secret that spin is a significant Lancashire weapon with the ball - it pretty much always has been, whether it be Gary Keedy and Stephen Parry in days gone by or Matthew Parkinson, Tom Hartley and Liam Livingstone at present.
But don’t forget pace is the message from captain Dane Vilas, especially that of new signing Luke Wood, the former Nottinghamshire left-armer.
Wood has gone under the radar in his first season with Lancashire, at times struggling for fitness and waiting until his third game to claim a wicket.
After wicketless spells against Derbyshire at Liverpool and Notts at Trent Bridge, he excelled against Yorkshire at Headingley on Monday with 3/21. He only just missed out on the man-of-the-match award to Parkinson, who claimed three wickets.
But Vilas believes it won’t be long before the 25-year-old’s name is up in lights even though he was expensive against Yorkshire last night, bowling two overs for 29.
“Woody is brilliant,” said the skipper. “He’s fantastic in the powerplay when guys are going hard and can come back and pick up wickets at the end.
“He’s a left-armer with some proper gas, and his slower balls are hard to play.
“I’ve no doubt he will be up there for a man-of-the-match award in the very near future.”
C&C Insurance are sponsors for today's match.