Vitality Blast Semi-Final preview
The North Group's best will go head-to-head for a place in the Vitality Blast final
Lancashire are back in a familiar setting - Finals Day.
This is the Red Rose county’s eighth appearance at the Blast showpiece, and they will be aiming to end the strangest of summers with their second crown.
Two more victories would see a repeat of the 2015 success when Steven Croft led his side to a final win over Northamptonshire.
Standing in the way initially will be 2017 champions and North Group rivals Nottinghamshire in the day’s second semi-final.
While the Lightning advanced courtesy of a battling win over Sussex Sharks on a Hove pitch which challenged batsmen on both sides yesterday afternoon, the Outlaws sealed their passage to Birmingham against Leicestershire Foxes at Trent Bridge last night via countback following a tied game.
Wins wise, it is a meeting of the two most successful teams in the history of English T20 cricket, with both having won 118 matches. Notts can lay claim to the best record, however, having only lost 73 games to Lancashire’s 74.
The winners will play either Surrey or Gloucestershire in the evening final. They meet in the morning semi-final at 11am.
If we do not complete proceedings tomorrow, there is a reserve day in place on Sunday, when things look brighter. But, if required, a bowl out will decide both the semi-finals and then the final.
All matches will be televised live on Sky Sports and not available on live stream.
It would be a surprise to see any changes to the team which beat Sussex by 45 runs.
After two defeats to end the group campaign, the Lightning bounced back expertly and fought hard with bat to post 140/8 and then with the ball and in the field to defend that total, bowling the hosts out for just 95, including eight wickets to spin. Liam Livingstone took four and Matthew Parkinson three in four balls.
We should see more pace in the Edgbaston surface, at least for the semi-finals, before things maybe slow up a bit for the evening final. If needed, 2015 champion Stephen Parry could come in as another spin option.
Nottinghamshire topped the North Group by four points from Lancashire, winning seven and losing only once, but qualified for Finals Day by the skin of their teeth last night.
After the Foxes posted 139/7, Notts also finished on 139/7, winning by virtue of having scored more runs in the six-over powerplay.
Leicester were hurt by two fielding errors in the last two overs from Arron Lilley and Dieter Klein, the latter coming off the last ball at long-on when Notts needed three to win outright and two to tie the scores.
What should have been one from the bat of Imad Wasim turned into two as Klein let it slip through his legs.
In the group stage, Notts beat Lancashire at Trent Bridge by six wickets chasing 168 last month after a rained-off clash at Liverpool.
Coached by Peter Moores and including Steven Mullaney in their side, they will field two overseas players in Dan Christian, the experienced Australian all-rounder who will captain them, and Pakistan left-arm spinner Wasim.
Samit Patel was their match-winner last night with an unbeaten 28 off 16 balls. That he batted at number eight gives you an idea of the batting depth Notts possess.
Joe Clarke is their leading run-scorer with 351 from nine innings, including a century, while Ben Duckett (274) is closing in on the 300-mark.
Opener Alex Hales will hope to turn the heads of the England selectors on the biggest stage county cricket has to offer, as will wicketkeeper-batsman Tom Moores, an ex-Red Rose loanee.
Notts have bowling depth too, proving last night they can put pace on or take it off.
Ex-England seamer Jake Ball is the competition’s joint-leading wicket-taker with 16 (alongside Gloucestershire’s Ryan Higgins).
Steven Mullaney and Patel both have taken nine wickets, while Wasim and Luke Fletcher have eight
Luke Wood will face his former side in the semi-final. This will be the Lancashire quick’s third successive Finals Day appearance, all with different teams - Nottinghamshire last year and Worcestershire in 2018.
He also played for Notts in the group stages in 2017 before they went on to win the title without him later in the summer.
Joe Clarke’s 77 off 36 balls secured a six-wicket win for Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge (September 11) as they successfully pursued 168 to secure a fourth win in six Blast group games, maintaining their unbeaten start to the competition.
Lancashire, having been inserted, were kept in check by pace off bowling, with Samit Patel’s left-arm spin returning 2/19 from four overs.
Another left-arm spinner, the Pakistan international, Imad Wasim opened the bowling and finished with 0/23 from four overs.
Liam Livingstone, Keaton Jennings, top-scorer Steven Croft (37) and Dane Vilas all posted scores in the thirties in 167/5.
Unfortunately, due to Clarke, it wasn’t to be enough as the hosts secured their eighth successive Blast victory over Lancashire at Trent Bridge.
After a first over strike from Steven Croft, removing Chris Nash, Clarke came in at three and shared 82 for the second wicket with Alex Hales (19).
That he dominated the stand with the powerful former England opener tells you how well he batted, hitting seven fours and five sixes before falling with 34 needed in the 14th over as the score fell to 134-4.
Livingstone removed him as one of two wickets for him, but Tom Moores and Dan Christian sealed the win with 31 not out and 20 not out.
WHAT THEY SAID
Saqib Mahmood, who set the tone with the early wicket of Sussex opener Phil Salt yesterday, is hoping his mantelpiece will need a bit of a rejig come tomorrow evening.
England quick Mahmood played a small part in the Lightning’s success in 2015, claiming two wickets in his first three career appearances.
Aged 18 at the time, Mahmood wasn’t a part of Finals Day. But, in the build-up to tomorrow, he revealed: “I’ve got a little winners’ medal sat at home.
“A number of guys were around that year, myself, Crofty, Livvy, Al, and experienced a winning campaign. That should help us this time.
“As players we know what we’re playing for, and we really want to win another title for Lancashire.
“Even though there will be no crowds, we are playing for this amazing county and for personal pride. We are desperate to win it again.”
The last two seasons have ended in knockout disappointment for the Lightning.
In his post-match interview yesterday, three-wicket spinner Matthew Parkinson referenced trying to make up for the disappointment of 2018 when they were beaten in the semi-final by Worcestershire Rapids at Edgbaston.
Mahmood, on the other, has reflected on last year when they were beaten in the quarter-final by Essex at Durham.
He added: “I felt we were unlucky last year when, I believe, we had all bases covered. We played a home game away from home and it didn’t work out.
“Hopefully we can put that to bed.”
WE’LL BE GOING FOR THE DOUBLE
There may not be any crowds in for Finals Day, so no bouncing Hollies Stand to Sweet Caroline as the night closes in.
But one tradition remains, if in a different form. The Mascot Derby.
This year, due to Coronavirus restrictions, it will only be contested by the mascots from the four semi-finalists.
So all that is left to say is: Come on Lanky the Giraffe!