Lancashire kept alive their hopes of qualifying for the T20 Blast quarter-finals, as Jos Buttler and Liam Livingstone guided them to a commanding seven-wicket win over Worcestershire with 15 balls to spare.
The pair shared a 76-run partnership in 64 balls to see the Lightning to their target of 128. It was a game that Lancashire knew they must win to stand any chance of reaching the knockout phase, even though they are still reliant on other results going their way.
With the threat of rain hanging over Lancashire’s run chase it was a wonderfully-measured effort from the Lightning batsmen.
Jordan Clark’s promotion to open the batting didn’t work, however, as he departed for four, looping the ball to Patrick Brown at short fine-leg.
But Arron Lilley struck the ball beautifully and hit three successive boundaries in the fifth over to take Lancashire on to 34-1, and crucially ahead of the DLS par score at that stage.
And they never fell behind that mark throughout the rest of the innings, chasing a target that Worcestershire captain Joe Leach admitted was 25-30 runs short of a competitive total.
When Lilley fell for a 24-ball 33, Lancashire were 47-2 in the seventh over and needed a partnership to guide them home.
Their two star batsmen provided just that, playing a sensible innings and nudging the ball around the ground to keep just ahead of where they needed to be.
Lancashire had moved on to 83-2 after 13 overs, and 7.4 overs had passed without a boundary being struck. Buttler ended that run with a powerful six down the ground off Alex Hepburn and followed it up with a four two balls later.
The England keeper was on just 15 after 21 balls of his innings, but after 29 balls be had progressed to 35 – putting the hammer down at just the right time.
Lancashire knew that improving their net run rate was also important as they attempt to make the quarter-finals and, with the finish line in sight, Buttler was doing just that.
Livingstone’s innings was one of control and, when he was out for 36 from 37 balls in the 18th over, he hadn’t hit a single boundary in the innings.
Buttler brought up his own milestone from the penultimate ball of the match, making 52 from 40 balls before the innings ended with a wide from Joe Leach as Lancashire clinched the win they so badly needed.
Earlier it was Lancashire’s arsenal of spinners that did the damage to a Worcestershire side who already knew that they couldn’t make the knockout stage.
Between them, Lancashire bowled 13 overs of spin with figures of 4-66. Lilley’s 2-18 were the best figures on show, but 20-year-old leg-spinner Matt Parkinson impressed once again, taking 1-14 from his four overs.
In fact of all bowlers who have bowled more than three overs in the competition, Parkinson’s economy rate of 5.78 is the best.
The Rapids never got going, losing wickets at regular intervals and only two of their batsmen passed 20. Brett D’Oliveira’s 33-ball 30 was the highlight of an otherwise underwhelming innings as they staggered to 127-8.
“It’s obviously a great win,” Lilley said.
“The wicket that we played on helps us with the spinners we have and the lads that we have who are good players of spin.
“Tomorrow’s Northants v Yorkshire game is a big one for us. Depending on how that goes is how we go about Friday. Obviously we need to win the game but it’s all up in the air I think.
“We want to finish on a win and hopefully qualify with two wins in a row. We snuck in at the last minute in 2015 (when Lancashire won the T20 Blast). Hopefully results go our way and we can get through to the quarter-finals.”
There are a whole host of permutations that could unfold on the final round of the Blast group stage on Friday, but Lancashire’s hopes will be altered by the Northants v Yorkshire game tomorrow.
But the Lightning knew that the minimum requirement of them was to win their final two matches and they ticked the first of those off in fine fashion.