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Croft’s classic innings steers Lancashire into Finals Day

Croft’s classic innings steers Lancashire into Finals Day

Steven Croft guided Lancashire to a record-equalling ninth Vitality Blast Finals Day appearance with a season’s best of 76 not out from 48 balls as the Lightning defeated Essex Eagles by seven wickets with 26 balls to spare in front of an ecstatic Emirates Old Trafford crowd of 10,887.

The Lightning will face Yorkshire Vikings in the semi-finals at Edgbaston on Saturday week, July 16th with the other semi-final between Hampshire and the winners of tomorrow evening’s match between Somerset and Derbyshire.

Chasing a target of 162, the Lightning had an early setback with the unfortunate loss of Jennings - run out without facing a ball by a deflection onto the stumps at the bowlers’ end – but Phil Salt and Croft took on the Eagles attack, producing a stinging assault of 73 runs from 47 balls that had the visitors on the back foot.

Croft hammered three sixes, two of them from consecutive Daniel Sams deliveries, in going to his fourth Blast half century of the season from 32 balls (4x4, 3x6) while Salt struck 27 off 21 balls as the Lightning made a fast start in pursuit of their 162 target.

Salt was brilliantly caught by a relay throw from Michael Pepper on the midwicket boundary to Ben Allison leaving Lancashire 79-2 at the end of the 9th over.

Dane Vilas helped maintain that momentum with an attacking 51 off 23 balls – only three balls shy of the Lightning T20 record for fastest fifty - hitting Matt Critchley into the building site behind square leg while Croft added his fourth maximum in the same over to bring up the fifty partnership off 25 balls in the 13th over.

That left 28 runs required from 42 balls and the Lightning coasted home from that point, Vilas falling to a catch at deep midwicket off Harmer when just five runs were required.

Tim David came in to drive the winning runs in the 16th over to maintain Lancashire’s unbeaten record at home that now stretches to two seasons - a remarkable run of 15 games.

Fittingly it was Croft who received the ovation at the end after producing one of his best innings in T20 cricket to help clinch victory with some ease.

Essex, who had won the toss and opted to bat, were indebted to a 49 run partnership over the final five overs of their innings between Paul Walter (34 not out) and Sams (25 not out) that helped post a reasonable-looking total of 161-5.  

Adam Rossington, having thumped 15 off one Tom Hartley over fell to an outstanding diving catch by David at deep mid-wicket off Luke Wood for 25 in the 5th over.

Fellow opener Critchley - back after injury in place of Robin Das - departed in the following over, caught via a leading edge by Luke Wells off Danny Lamb’s first delivery for 12 with the Eagles 53-2 at the end of the powerplay.

Pepper, who hit his fourth delivery for six, joined forces with Dan Lawrence to add 39 runs in five overs before Lawrence hammered Luke Wood straight to David at mid-on who took a second great catch, this time over his head, to peg the Eagles back at 84-3 in the 11th over.

Pepper, the Eagles’ leading run-scorer in T20 this season, next swept Tom Hartley for six to move to 36 midway through the 13th over but was stumped by Salt aiming to repeat the shot from the next ball.

And the Lightning keeper pulled off a second smart stumping off Wells in the next over to send back Westley for 5 as the Eagles innings stuttered at 112-5 after 15 overs in the face of some tight bowling.

Walter hit the Eagles first boundary for seven overs in the 17th over while Sams pulled Wells for six over midwicket in the 18 to pull the visitors’ innings around on a slowish wicket with Wood, Bailey and Lamb each conceding 28 runs from their four-over spells in an excellent Lightning bowling display.

But it was a total that Lancashire soon made short work of reaching.

Steven Croft hailed “a great team performance,” after helping Lancashire to an emphatic victory.

“I thought we bowled really well,” he said, “and we batted well too with Salty and myself taking it on and then Dane came in and played a fine knock that took pressure off me.

“He played a gem of an innings and that the pressure to score wasn’t just on one batter.

“It was a great partnership and it took the game away from them.”

 Croft has been in tremendous form this season - he is the leading run-scorer for Lancashire this season with 498 runs in T20, also his best season return - and he added: “I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”

“You never know when your last season will be so I’m taking it each game at a time and loving my cricket.”

 “We’ve had a lot of thrilling games here this season so credit to the lads. The way they finished off with the ball, and the way we went about it with the bat, it was a clinical performance."

“Two wins going into Finals Day is the sort of momentum we want.”

The challenge now is to aim for a second Blast title and Croft added:

“We’ve played some brilliant cricket in the group stages. We’ve done well in every department.

“We’ve obviously got a really good squad We don’t rely on one or two players. We’ve all stuck our hands up, and hopefully it will be the same for Finals Day.

“You have to play some really good and smart cricket to get over the line on Finals Day.

“It’s an exciting time and hopefully we can lift that trophy.”

Dane Vilas hailed a “fantastic” win after leading Lancashire to Finals Day.

“We started the season so well, then we faltered a bit and then had a good game to finish the group stage well and get a home quarter-final at a packed Emirates Old Trafford, it has been fantastic,” he said.

“We were pretty confident at half-way. The way we bowled and fielded, restricting them to 161, we were pretty confident of chasing that down here.

“Crofty showed his experience. He is such a legend. He is getting better and better and wants to do it for the team. He bats in tough situations, when the pressure is on batting at No.3. And even in the four-day stuff he has been fantastic. He has had a great season and his contributions have been incredible.”

And Vilas also paid tribute to a great team effort.

“We have a lot of depth in this squad, people are desperate to play,” he added.

“When we don’t have players available it gives us the chance to do that. Our players have been rewarded for playing well for us with England call-ups, which is fantastic, and thoroughly deserved. But we know we have got the boys who can put their hand up and step up to the plate if needed."

Vilas is relishing the prospect of Finals Day at Edgbaston next Saturday.

“Finals Day is going to be fantastic,” he said.

“To play in front of a packed house will be really good. It is nice that we are going into it playing some great cricket and it is only a week away, often it is a couple of weeks after the quarter-finals.

“So we have momentum, although all teams there will say that going into finals day. It should be a great day.

“Yorkshire will be another tough game. Hopefully it wouldn’t be as tight as the recent matches have been. But it is always great to play against them, the old enemy, and hopefully we can carry on our good recent form against them.

“We want to win, we want to put another star on our chest. We want to get past Yorkshire and get to the final.

“It is a huge day, and a great honour - a lot of players don’t get to play at Finals Day or have the chance to win a trophy. Finals Day is always the second date you look for in the fixtures after the Roses matches, and you really want to get there. We want to put right the wrongs from the last time we went there, and continue to play the good cricket we have been doing.

“We need to control our nerves and back ourselves. We need to treat it as a normal game and not put too much emphasis on it or think about it too much. We just have to enjoy the moment.

“We have had guys come in and out of the team, but we want to play the best team we can and give ourselves the best opportunity to win some silverware.”

It will be a proud moment for Vilas when he leads the team out at Edgbaston.

“It would be massive to win it as captain of Lancashire,” he said.

“It has been an honour to be captain of Lancs and to put a trophy on the board…that is what we work hard for. We have been so close in a number of competitions in the past, so to win something would be a special moment. But we can’t even think about that - but if we do it will be amazing.

“We have a Championship match now before it, we can’t get distracted. If you look for an excuse you will find it, we just have to focus and play good cricket.”

Ken Grime
Photos: George Franks & Luke Adams

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