Match Preview: Sussex Sharks vs Lancashire Lightning
A place at Finals Day awaits for the winner of tomorrow's Vitality Blast clash at Hove
Lancashire Lightning are preparing for yet another T20 quarter-final, the county’s 13th in 18 seasons.
To date they have won seven and lost five, including a victory against the Sharks at Hove in 2011 by 20 runs. That year, the Lightning were beaten semi-finalists by eventual champions Leicestershire.
While Dane Vilas and co finished second in this season’s North Group, winning five of 10 games, Sussex finished second in the South with six wins and claimed a home tie in the last eight as the best second-placed finisher across the three groups.
The prize is a trip to Finals Day at Edgbaston on Saturday, with both sides chasing a second Blast crown. Sussex were champions in 2009 and Lancashire in 2015.
Should the Red Rose win through to Finals Day, they will end Jason Gillespie’s time as a county coach.
The Australian fast bowling great, a coach with Yorkshire, Kent (he was assistant at Canterbury) and Sussex since 2012, is heading home to coach home state South Australia, a job he will start immediately after quarantining upon his return Down Under.
Liam Livingstone needs 26 more runs to become only the fourth Lightning batsman to score 1,500 T20 runs for the county after Karl Brown, Steven Croft and Tom Smith.
Three more wickets would also take Matthew Parkinson to 73 for the Lightning and would leave him as the county’s second leading wicket-taker behind Stephen Parry on 118. Gary Keedy is currently sandwiched in between the pair on 72.
This fixture will be available to view via a live stream on our website.
Both sides have been affected by Indian Premier League duty, with Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer and Chris Jordan all currently in the United Arab Emirates and unavailable. The former two are current team-mates with Rajasthan Royals.
Richard Gleeson remains unavailable due to a back injury. Otherwise, there has been a clean bill of health reported from the Lancashire management.
That means Keaton Jennings has returned to fitness following a calf injury and is available for selection having missed the last four North Group matches.
While Lancashire lost their last two North Group games, Sussex won their last two in the South - against Middlesex and 2019 champions Essex.
Captained by 2010 England T20 World Cup winner Luke Wright, who opens the batting for them, they were a consistent force throughout the group stages.
However, one stat which may give Lancashire extra hope is that the Sharks only claimed two of their six victories on home turf at Hove.
Wright, 35-years-old and set for his 325th career T20 appearance, is this season’s third leading run-scorer in the Blast with 375 runs from 10 innings, including two fifties.
Opening partner and England hopeful Phil Salt (206 runs), Delray Rawlins (202) and powerful South African all-rounder David Wiese (272) have also been important contributors with the bat.
With the ball, wily left-arm spinner Danny Briggs leads the way with 12 wickets, while left-arm quick George Garton has 11.
After last year’s quarter-final exploits for Essex up at Durham, Lancashire know all about the dangers new Shark Ravi Bopara poses in this format, while T20 specialist quick Tymal Mills must be respected.
Wright and Ben Brown are both University course mates with Dane Vilas, with the trio currently studying a Masters in Sports Directorship at Manchester Metropolitan: “A win would make the lectures a little bit easier,” quipped Vilas.
These two counties have only ever met once before in T20 cricket, with Lancashire winning the 2011 quarter-final at Hove as they expertly defended a target of 153 thanks to two wickets apiece for Farveez Maharoof, Junaid Khan and Gary Keedy.
After captain Steven Croft had elected to bat, Karl Brown hit 44 and Paul Horton an unbeaten 49 to help the visitors recover from 45/3 in the sixth over to reach 152/8.
Brown hit four sixes in 31 balls from number four in the order and was the only batsmen from either side to regularly find the ropes.
In reply, Sussex also lost three wickets in the powerplay (31/3 in the fifth over) and they failed to recover as Keedy and overseas duo Maharoof and Khan put the shackles on them.
Croft and Stephen Parry are the only remaining members of the Lancashire squad who played on that early August evening nine years ago. Ben Brown is the only surviving member of the Sussex squad from that evening. Like Parry, however, Brown’s Blast appearances this season have been sporadic.
Unfortunately, the Red Rose were unable to go on and clinch the Blast title, but at least they were celebrating silverware at the end of the season in the form of the County Championship crown.
WHAT THEY SAID:
Steven Croft describes Lancashire’s 2011 quarter-final Blast success against Sussex at Hove as “a great memory” and would love more of the same.
The Red Rose all-rounder skippered the side that night in the absence of Glen Chapple and said: “It’s always nice to recall past successes on away grounds.
“We defended 150ish, and it was a typically Lancs win. We fought and scrapped our way into Finals Day.”
That is the only meeting between the two in T20 history. But Croft said: “We’ve seen a lot of them on television, and I suppose it will be the same for them with us.
“They look a good outfit, but we’re really confident going down there.”
Croft is not concerned with two home losses to Durham and Leicestershire to end their North Group campaign.
“After that double Roses win, we were flying high. But you could say we had a bit of a Roses hangover,” he continued.
“We had the worst of the two pitches (against Durham and Leicestershire), but we should have got those games a lot closer than we did, especially having experience on this ground.
“We had a decent group campaign. It would have been nice to get a home quarter-final. But it was just nice to qualify having not played our best cricket yet.
“It would have been nice to have had the momentum of a couple of wins going into the quarters, but those two Roses wins really stand out.
“We played some good cricket, and I think we’re in a good spot going into the game.
“Everyone’s stuck their hands up at one stage or another. We didn’t have Saqib or Livvy at the start, and Keats has missed a bit, and whoever has come in has put their hand up.
“That means you go into games thinking, ‘Anyone can win it for us’. It puts your own game at ease and allows you to go out there and play fearless cricket.
“It’s been nice to dust ourselves down over the last week, assess what went wrong and hopefully put it right on Thursday.”
Croft, who will turn 36 on 11 October, recently went beyond 4,000 career T20 runs and became only the fourth man in the world to do it without playing an international.
And amidst preparations ahead of the Sharks meeting, he paused to reflect on his 193-game 20-over career, which began in the summer of 2006.
He said: “It’s something you don’t really pay attention to when you’re doing it, and it was only in my testimonial year (2018) when I had to write some stuff on paper that you think, ‘I’ve been around a bit’.
“From that year onwards, I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m still contracted for next year, but you never know when your next game is going to be.
“I’ve played with the likes of Kyle Hogg and Tom Smith, whose careers got cut short prematurely - similarly with Graham Onions this year.
“It hits home that you may not go out on your terms. I’m taking every game at a time and enjoying it.”
And on whether Sussex will have any extra motivation in terms of giving departing coach Jason Gillespie an ideal send-off, Croft added: “Possibly, slightly.
“He’s been a great servant for county cricket in general. Having overseas coaches of that calibre around is good for the game.
“Hopefully it’s not a good send-off for him, but he’s had a good time in county cricket.”