Bears hold nerve to edge low-scoring victory over Lightning

Such was the hype surrounding Brendon McCullum’s debut for Birmingham that the game itself became almost a secondary issue. When the New Zealand star departed for a promising but ultimately underwhelming 18 inside the powerplay, everyone rather looked around and wondered just who else was playing. As it turned out, despite a lack of boundaries, it was a rather thrilling contest, which saw Birmingham clinch a dramatic final ball victory.

Having won the toss, Birmingham suffered the same fate as Durham had against Lancashire on Thursday and stalled as soon as pace came off the ball outside the powerplay. They lost wickets at regular intervals and found boundaries very hard to come by as they posted a below par 137-8.

What they did to great effect with the ball in hand was to give Lancashire a taste of their own medicine, and a mixture of spin and cutters left the Lightning always behind the rate. A super knock from James Faulkner brought Lancashire within touching distance and set up a thrilling final over where Liam Livingstone almost got his side over the line; ultimately though, it was the Birmingham Bears who triumphed by one run.

Opening with Varun Chopra, McCullum gave himself a couple of balls before cutting loose and lashing three successive fours off Kyle Jarvis in the second over. Another lusty blow off the bowling of Faulkner in the fourth was just about all there was from the Kiwi and he perished with the penultimate ball of the powerplay. McCullum attempted to launch Jordan Clark for a straight six but got too much elevation and was brilliantly caught by Steven Croft who dashed 30 yards to his right to take a diving catch.

That left Birmingham 49-1 at the end of the powerplay with Chopra looking superb on 30 as he was joined at the crease by William Porterfield. Lancashire adopted their tried-and-trusted approach of bowling spin at both ends after the powerplay, and they began to apply the squeeze.

Birmingham had pushed the score on to 69-1 at the start of the ninth over when Chopra went after picking out Lilley in the deep off the bowling of Parry. At the halfway stage the game was evenly poised at 71-2.

Trial by spin continued and Rikki Clarke fell in the 13th over having done little damage. Boundaries were hard to come by against the spinners on a pitch which gripped and turned. That turn did for the dangerous Laurie Evans who was Stephen Parry’s second wicket in the 15th over. Trying to hit the ball down the ground, Evans sliced to short third man where Jarvis took an excellent catch. Early momentum had stalled and, after 16 overs, Birmingham were 109-4 and they had hit only four boundaries since the end of the powerplay.

The final four overs yielded 28 runs for the loss of four wickets as the Birmingham innings tailed away. Lancashire had bowled 12 overs of spin and conceded just 71 while picking up four wickets. James Faulkner ended the innings brilliantly for Lancashire taking two wickets in three balls before Recordo Gordon lashed the only six of the innings with three balls remaining. The Bears ended on a disappointing 137-8.

Prince got the Lightning off to a positive start and hit Oliver Hannon-Dalby for a big six in the second over, but the bowler got his revenge as Prince picked out Porterfield at point to leave Lancashire 13-1. Karl Brown was another batsman who smashed a six and then swiftly perished as he was caught behind off Recordo Gordon. Lancashire were struggling to get the ball away and at the end of the powerplay were 32-2 – seventeen adrift of Birmingham at the same stage.

Paul Horton had started slowly but was beginning to find his feet after hitting two boundaries in quick succession. He departed after 8.5 overs in a mix up with Steven Croft which resulted in Horton being run out by a distance for 24. Lancashire were 52-3 at that stage and at the halfway point were just 56-3, still needing 82 off 60 balls.

Croft’s dismissal brought brought Faulkner and Jordan Clark together, and the pair set about accelerating the run rate and some innovative play and aggressive running cut the target to 48 from 30 at the end of the fifteenth over.

When Faulkner launched Jeetan Patel into the second tier of spectators in the 16th, Lancashire were starting to believe. Jordan Clark’s dismissal in the next over stalled the momentum and left Lancashire 108-5 after 17 – needing 30 from 18 balls.  Ten runs off the next over gave the Red Rose hope but Faulkner’s dismissal for 34 followed by Alex Davies scooping to the keeper left them needing an improbable 17 from the last six balls.

Young Liam Livingstone almost pulled off the impossible, striking a four and then a six to leave three needed off the last ball. He could only pick out cover and the run out meant that Birmingham had won a thrilling contest by one run.


MAN OF THE MATCH: Recordo Gordon

The Birmingham seamer adapted superbly to the conditions and bowled brilliantly. His mixture of Yorkers and slower balls proved tough for Lancashire to hit and he thoroughly deserved his four wickets. He was the main obstacle to Lancashire in their run chase and secured the win for his side.

T20 Blast Preview: Lancashire Lightning v Birmingham Bears

At Old Trafford on Friday night, all eyes will be on one man – Brendon McCullum.

New Zealand’s superstar skipper and master-blaster makes his bow for the Birmingham Bears in the repeat of last year’s T20 Blast final and the build-up to the game would suggest Lancashire will be facing McCullum and ten strangers.

That does great disservice to the rest of the Birmingham side who are, of course, the defending T20 Blast champions and are going very nicely in the North group in defence of their title. The Bears have won five and lost just twice which leaves them second in the table.

William Porterfield’s 42 and Tim Ambrose’s 46 guided them to a six-wicket victory over the dangerous Yorkshire on Sunday and the pair both average over 60 in this year’s competition – with Porterfield amassing 243 runs in his seven innings. Add to that the likes of Rikki Clarke, Laurie Evans and Varun Chopra and the Bears aren’t lacking in firepower with the bat.

Having said that, adding one of the best limited overs batsmen in the world to your ranks can only be a good thing. On his day, McCullum can win a match on his own and alongside Chris Gayle is arguably the most destructive hitter in world cricket. His form for New Zealand this summer, however, has been patchy. In the ODI series, he averaged just 20.20 with a high score of 39. In the standalone T20 at Old Trafford he showed a glimpse of what he can offer, smashing 35 off 15 balls – the kind of striking that Lancashire will be wary of.

The Lightning have a superstar and a World Cup finalist of their own in James Faulkner who has started his stint at Old Trafford like a train. The Aussie has scored 171 runs in his five matches at a strike rate of 145.96 and has shown his all-rounder skills by taking ten wickets.

Despite the efforts of Faulkner, Lancashire’s form has been up and down but victory over Durham on Thursday lifted them into the top four in the table. Two successive defeats last week to Northants and Worcestershire had left their progression to the group stage in doubt, but a win over Birmingham would leave them confident of making the quarter-finals.

The Lightning won last year’s meeting at Old Trafford with the game at Edgbaston abandoned without a ball bowled. Birmingham beat Lancashire in the Blast final.

Key Men

While Lancashire are reliant on the likes of Faulkner and Steven Croft to provide the impetus, every innings needs an anchor and more often that not that anchor is Ashwell Prince. The veteran South African has been in superb form in all forms of the game and his 63* against Durham on Thursday in difficult conditions proved his class. Prince is the man that the Lightning build their innings around and they will look for a similar showing against Birmingham.

Varun Chopra was Birmingham’s leading runs scorer in the competition last season and was instrumental in them lifting the trophy. His average last season was 40.38 and he hit five fifties but this season he has failed to reach those heights. Despite a high score of 80, he has hit just 138 runs in seven innings at an average of 19.71. The Bears will be hopeful their skipper can rediscover some of his form from last year and be the vanguard of their innings.

Team News

Lancashire may decide to freshen up their squad after playing against Durham on Thursday, but the nucleus of the side should remain unchanged. Liam Livingstone was moved away from the opening slot against Durham and will probably continue in the middle order. Ashley Giles will have to decide on whether to play Kyle Jarvis again after commenting in the past about the need to manage his workload.

Brendon McCullum is the obvious standout inclusion in the Birmingham Bears squad but where he will slot into the order is unclear. Ian Bell’s brief stint with the Bears is over for now as the build-up to the Ashes begins in earnest. Keith Barker has been omitted from the squad while Jeetan Patel will expect to play a major role on a track which offers assistance to the spinners.

Lancashire Squad: tba

Birmingham Bears squad: Varun Chopra (c), Tim Ambrose (wk), Rikki Clarke, Laurie Evans, Recordo Gordon, Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Ateeq Javid, Tom Lewis, Brendon McCullum, Jeetan Patel, William Porterfield, Josh Poysden, Boyd Rankin


Lancashire: LLWWL

Birmingham: WLWWW

Weather and conditions

Fine but cloudy weather is forecast with spells of sunshine. The Old Trafford pitch should be favourable for the batsmen but often aids bowlers who take pace off the ball.

Date: 26th June 2015

Time: 6.30pm

Ground: Emirates Old Trafford

Umpires: David Milns & Steve O’Shaughnessy. TV Umpire – Paul Baldwin

Odds (SkyBet): Lancashire 5/4, Birmingham 8/13

Stoneman, bowlers seal Durham victory

There’s an old adage in cricket that you should never judge a score until both teams have batted. Never has that proved more accurate. Durham, having won the toss, failed to even bat out their overs and posted a target of 156 which seemed to be at best under par, at worst very disappointing.

That was despite Mark Stoneman’s best T20 score of 57. Having been in a commanding position at 104/2 after 11 overs, Durham collapsed by losing eight wickets for 50 runs in 8.1 overs.

Lancashire never looked fluent but had a standout performer in Ashwell Prince, who himself hit a career-best T20 score of 78. While he was batting so well, Lancashire, though behind the rate, always had a chance. But this was to prove a tale of two collapses. The Lightning lost five wickets for four runs in eight balls to end on 139/9 – 16 runs short of their target.

Lancashire started well as they restricted the Durham openers to just 12 runs off the first two overs. When Tom Bailey bowled Phil Mustard round his legs with a slow full toss in the third, the score was 18/1 and the hosts were dominant.

Stoneman and Calum MacLeod set about kicking on. They had pushed the score on to 52/1 at the end of the fifth. The introduction of Jordan Clark broke the dangerous partnership. MacLeod attempted the paddle sweep but succeeded only in hitting the ball onto his own stumps. At the end of the Powerplay, The Jets had reached 59/2 and the game was evenly poised.

Steven Croft turned to spin and the next three overs went for just 22. Stoneman was still going strong and passed his 50 in the 11th over. His partnership with Paul Collingwood also passed the 50 mark off just 34 balls and Durham were in a strong position at 105/3 in the 12th over.

Crucially, Lancashire made a breakthrough and Collingwood was on his way when he tried to paddle sweep Arron Lilley but got a top edge through to keeper Alex Davies. And that partnership was in operation again in the 14th over when Stoneman fell for his best T20 score of 57 (38). He dashed down the wicket at Lilley and was stumped by Davies. When Ryan Pringle was trapped lbw by Stephen Parry just five balls later, Durham had slumped from 105/2 to 119/5 in 2.4 overs.

Gordon Muchall made a good 21 from 22 balls but the wickets continued to tumble for the Jets. Scott Borthwick was stumped by Davies off the bowling of Lilley before Muchall hit Edwards straight at Bailey at extra cover. That left Durham 142/7. They lost their last three wickets for just 13 runs. John Hastings had his stumps rearranged by Bailey and in the final over Usman Arshad was caught at cow corner by Prince off Edwards and Davies ran out Jennings to wrap up the innings. Lilley was the pick of the bowling with 4-0-18-2. Having won the toss, Durham fell two balls short of their overs and posted a disappointing 155.

Lancashire’s chase suffered an early setback when Liam Livingstone was run out by Hastings in the second over for just two, but Prince guided Lancashire to 32/1 after four overs.

Karl Brown went for a scratchy 8 (11) when he was bowled by an Arshad slower ball. Lancashire were 38/2 after five needing 118 from 90 balls.

The next four overs went for just 16 runs and last weeks match-winner Steven Croft also departed for just five when Borthwick had him caught in the deep by Chris Rushworth. At the halfway stage of their innings, Lancashire were under pressure at 62/3 and needed 94 from 60 balls.

Prince was still there on 41 and going strong. He soon brought up his 50 off 34 balls and by the end of the 14th over had pushed on to 63 from 41 balls – guiding his side to 97/3. They required 59 from 36 balls with South African pairing Prince and Alviro Petersen at the crease.

Five runs off the next over left the Lightning needing 54 from the last five overs. Pringle broke the partnership by bowling Petersen, who struggled to 20 (24) and Lancashire needed 47 off the last 24 balls.

Alex Davies’ arrival at the crease brought fresh impetus and he hit two improvised strokes past the keeper for boundaries. From there, it all went to pieces for Lancashire. Davies was run out for 14 with the last ball of the 18th over. That triggered the collapse. Prince was also run out for a superb 51-ball 78 before Jordan Clark and Arron Lilley were caught in the deep off consecutive Hastings deliveries. They were 135-8, needing 20 off the last over. Arshad had Bailey caught again with the next delivery to complete a remarkable collapse.

Durham make it two wins from two and seal a first T20 win over Lancashire in their last eight meetings. The margin of victory was 16 runs in the end and a target that seemed extremely gettable had proved to be anything but.

T20 Blast Preview: Lancashire Lightning v Durham Jets

Lancashire and Durham both got the better of their respective opposition in the opening week of the NatWest T20 Blast on the Duckworth-Lewis method. The Jets sit at the top of the fledgling North Group table and travel to Old Trafford looking to inflict only the second defeat in Lancashire’s last 12 home games in the competition.

Rain played its part in the opening fixtures, as Steven Croft’s unbeaten 70 guided the Lightning past Leicestershire, while Northamptonshire, Durham’s opponents, fell short on the D/L method at Chester-le-Street.

The Jets have only reached Finals Day once since the inception of the competition and haven’t made it to the T20 showpiece occasion since 2008. Lancashire meanwhile are bidding to reach their fourth, but are yet to go all the way and claim the title. It was the Lightning who triumphed in both encounters last season and are unbeaten in their last seven meetings between the two sides.

The pair are looking to back up some impressive early season form in the County Championship. Durham enter the game off the back of a defeat to Warwickshire at Edgbaston but sit second in Division One. Lancashire are top of the Division Two table and will have a spring in their step after a remarkable win against Leicestershire – where they bowled their opposition out for just 78 in the second innings, thanks largely to figures of 5-12 from Tom Bailey.

On paper, the two teams lack a star name – a worldwide star. However, both lineups are stacked full of experience. Lancashire captain Steven Croft has played in their last 103 T20 games while, for Durham, Phil Mustard has 153 T20 outings to his name and England’s World T20-winning captain Paul Collingwood bolsters the middle order.

Key Men

George Edwards is a man not many people had heard of this time last week. The seamer’s display against Leicestershire last Friday, where he took 4-20 on his Lancashire debut, has catapulted him to the forefront of the Lightning attack. He was quick, skiddy and accurate, bouncing back from a difficult first over to be trusted to bowl the death over, where he took two wickets. Durham will be wary of underestimating the young paceman.

At a time when England are desperately seeking a front-line spinner in all formats, Durham’s Scott Borthwick has dropped down the pecking order. Since being selected in the Sydney Ashes Test of 2014, Borthwick hasn’t been seen in an England shirt and at the age of 25 needs to be pressing his claims more than he currently is. His batting has taken over from his bowling to the extent where he can perhaps no longer be considered an all-rounder. A County Championship batting average of 50.87 this season is impressive but he has only bowled 27 overs. Strong showings in T20 could put him back in the minds of the England selectors and he will hope to impress here.

Team News

Lancashire are unlikely to make too many changes to their winning side, if any, with Kyle Jarvis again being rested to lead Lancashire’s County Championship attack. Young Liam Livingstone is expected to open once again with Ashwell Prince. The arrival of overseas signing James Faulkner has been delayed by the Rajasthan Royals’ progression to the knockout stage of the IPL, but their elimination from the competition on Wednesday gives the Australian an outside chance of making this match. He hasn’t been named in the squad, but Lancashire haven’t ruled out his late inclusion.

Similarly, it is unlikely that Durham will change too much from their win over Northants. Fast bowler Mark Wood and all-rounder Ben Stokes are away on England duty meaning that the bowling attack is expected to remain unchanged. The tried and trusted opening partnership of Mark Stoneman and Phil Mustard will be picked again, while Calum MacLeod will look to build on his 32-ball 60 from last Friday.

Lancashire squad: Steven Croft (c), Tom Bailey, Karl Brown, Nathan Buck, Jordan Clark, Alex Davies (w), George Edwards, Arron Lilley, Liam Livingstone, Stephen Parry, Alviro Petersen, Ashwell Prince

Durham squad: tbc

Weather and conditions

Old Trafford was struck by the rain last Friday and there’s a chance of the same happening this week. It is forecast to clear up just in time for the start. The pitch will be hard and fast and generally good for batting.

Date: 20th May

Time: 6.30pm

Emirates Old Trafford

Umpires: Neil Mallender & Tim Robinson

Odds (SkyBet): Lancashire 8/11, Durham 11/10

Croft leads Lancashire to thrilling win

When Steven Croft dragged the first ball slightly short and was carted away over backward square by Ned Eckersley it might have dawned on theLancashire skipper that this wasn’t Championship cricket. Yes, T20 Blastwas back with all its razzmatazz and swashbuckling shots. Croft’s night was to improve as his wonderful display with the bat secured a thrilling last-ball win.

Unfortunately, after an engaging 11 overs, the Old Trafford weather wasback to plague us. The break worked in Lancashire’s favour as the game was reduced to 15 overs a side and a flurry of Leicestershire wickets upon resumption gave the home side the edge. A revised target of 140 on duckworth/lewis was set.

When Lancashire were 61-4 after eight overs, still needing 79 off 42 balls, momentum was with the Foxes. Step forward skipper Steven Croft who, with assistance from Davies, guided his side to a thrilling last ball win. The Lancashire skipper smashed 70 from just 39 balls as they claimed a five-wicket win off the final ball.

Having won the toss and elected to bat, Leicestershire would have been delighted with their start. George Edwards, making his Lancashire debut, saw his first over disappear for 14, including a six and four in consecutive balls by Mark Cosgrove. When Tom Bailey struck to remove the left-hander opener in the third over, it brought Kevin O’Brien out to the middle to partner Ned Eckersley.

The pair pushed the score on to 59-1 after the first five overs, including smashing 15 off Jordan Clark’s first over. Lancashire captain Croft brought himself back into the attack. The change worked as Eckersley picked out Karl Brown in the deep and was on his way for 29 from 18 balls with the score on 63-2.

From there, Lancashire’s spin attack of Croft, Stephen Parry and Arron Lilley applied the squeeze and the next four overs went for just 29 runs.

Leicestershire’s new overseas star Grant Elliot struggled early on, taking just 12 from his first 18 balls, but fortunately for the Foxes, O’Brien was in the mood and when the rain came after 11.2 overs he had reached 43 from just 23 balls including three 4s and two 6s.

The way the conditions worked out, Leicestershire returned with just 3.4 overs of their innings left and had to push on. Inevitably wickets tumbled.

Grant Elliot departed with the second ball after the resumption, trying to sweep Parry with top-edging to Ashwell Prince to leave his side 106-3. It was soon 109-5 within just eight balls of the resumption as O’Brien hammered George Edwards straight at Jordan Clark in the covers and three balls later Edwards had Rob Taylor caught behind for a duck.

Lancashire were well on top. Edwards was making his Lancashire debut and the young seamer was trusted to bowl the final over. He didn’t let his skipper down as he claimed two wickets. First McKay was caught by Alviro Petersen at long off before the final ball of the match saw Wells pick out Prince at long on. Just five runs came off the over and Edwards finished with 4-20. Leicestershire had posted 131-6 from their 15 overs, giving Lancashire a testing but gettable revised target of 140.

Youngster Liam Livingstone hit 350 from 138 balls for Nantwich earlier this season and has impressed enough for Lancashire’s second XI to get the nod to open with Prince. It was the more experienced South African who departed though for just 8 in the second over, skying Ben Raine to keeper Niall O’Brien.

Livingstone started like a seasoned pro and 14 from eight balls in the third over as Lancashire reached 35-1. He lost another partner though as Karl Brown was caught by Mark Cosgrove off the bowling of Clint McKay and then perished himself as he put Rob Taylor straight down the throat of Wells at mid on.

At 36-3, Lancashire were stuttering. When it became 57-4 with the loss of Petersen, Lancashire needed 83 from 47 balls. Back to back overs of 14 between Croft and Steven Davies got the home side back on track. The pair put on 50 from 30 balls and Croft brought up his own half-century. With two overs remaining Lancashire needed 24 to win.

Brilliant batting from Croft guided his side to a position where they needed 10 off the last over, with Ben Raine bowling. The plot thickened when Davies was run out off the first ball. Lancashire needed two off two balls and Raine delivered a superb bouncer. Dot ball. But this was to be Croft’s night. He was imperious throughout and slashed the final ball away to backward point to for four to seal a super opening night win.

Man of the Match – Steven Croft (Lancashire): An easy choice, Steven Croft showed all of his experience in this format. When he arrived at the crease his side were under the cosh. He was cool and composed but delivered the big shots when it mattered to smash a wonderful 70 (39). Quite simply, he was the difference maker in this match.

T20 Blast Preview: Lancashire Lightning v Leicestershire Foxes

The Natwest T20 Blast makes its return on Friday night and last year’s beaten finalists Lancashire kick off their bid to go one better this time around against Leicestershire at Old Trafford.

Lancashire are the most successful English county in the shortest form of the game in terms of having won the most games but, despite this, they have never lifted the trophy. By contrast, Leicestershire are the side who have won the competition the most, emerging victorious in 2004, 2006 and 2011.

This will be the first T20 game for Lancashire under new Head Coach Ashley Giles. The former England and Warwickshire coach is hoping to build upon the successes that the side has had in the past, but believes they need to be more ruthless after their recent County Championship loss to Gloucestershire.

“The side has been successful and they play a certain way,” Giles said.

“I’m not going to tell them to play any other way but go out, express themselves, have some fun and give it a good go.

“Ultimately it’s about that ruthless streak and good teams make their home ground a fortress.

“We need to improve on our pro-activeness and ruthlessness. It always hurts to lose. I’m fed up!”

Leicestershire’s form in four-day cricket continues to be dreadful and they are winless once again so far this season. They had a taster of the kind of action they might expect in T20 at The Oval this week, when Surrey chased down their 218 target in just 21.2 overs. Historically, The Foxes have been a much more successful one-day outfit and they will want to show that again. With additions such as New Zealander Grant Elliot and Australian Clint Mackay, they are not lacking the top-level experience needed and will be one of the danger teams in the competition once again this year.

In the head to head record between these two since the competition began in 2003, Lancashire have won 12 of the 19 meetings, losing just five times. They won both of last season’s encounters.

Key Men

As captain, and a valuable operator in T20 with bat and ball, Lancashire will look to Steven Croft to lead them to a successful campaign once again this season. Croft has played in Lancashire’s last 102 T20s, the only Englishman to play in over 100 successive matches for a team. He has the ability to be a destructive batsman with a T20 average of 30.22 and a handy strike rate of 122.35. Croft also is often charged with bowling his brand of spin in the powerplay and is one of Lancashire’s best fielders, making him a crucial cog in this team.

When you sign up a man who played a match-winning knock in a World Cup semi-final just a matter of months ago, he is always going to be a key man. Grant Elliott is the big overseas star for Leicestershire at the start of the campaign until he is required for ODI duty with New Zealand. His innings of 84 against South Africa at Eden Park in March guided his side to the World Cup final and displayed his ability to clear the ropes as well as play a composed innings under the most intense pressure. Any repetition of such feats for Leicestershire will make him a superb addition to their ranks.

Team News

Lancashire are without a number of players who were integral to their campaign last year. Top runs scorer and opening batsman Tom Smith is sidelined through injury while experienced campaigner Paul Horton starts a two-game suspension. Kabir Ali has retired while Junaid Khan has not been re-signed. Usman Khawaja, Andrew Flintoff, Jos Buttler and James Anderson also played in the final last year – none of whom are available for selection. Youngster Liam Livingstone and batsman Karl Brown were both mentioned by Giles as being in contention. Nathan Buck should play his first T20 game for Lancashire against his former side, while it’s undecided whether Alviro Petersen will open the batting or slot into the middle order.

Leicestershire could hand T20 debuts to Mark Cosgrove, Clint Mackay, Aadil Ali and Angus Robson while Kevin O’Brien is also expected to feature for the Foxes. The O’Brien brothers will be a key cog in the side with Kevin’s brother Niall also in the squad as wicket-keeper batsman. Grant Elliott will make his bow for Leicestershire as a middle-order batsman.

Lancashire Lightning squad: Steven Croft (c), Tom Bailey, Karl Brown, Nathan Buck, Jordan Clark, Alex Davies (w), George Edwards, Arron Lilley, Liam Livingstone, Saqib Mahmood, Stephen Parry, Alviro Petersen, Ashwell Prince

Leicestershire Foxes squad: Mark Cosgrove (c), Aadil Ali, Ned Eckersley, Grant Elliott, Clint Mckay, Jigar Naik, Kevin O’Brien, Niall O’Brien (w), Angus Robson, Ben Raine, Atif Sheikh, Rob Taylor, Tom Wells

Weather and conditions

The match could be disrupted by light, but frequent rain showers. Old Trafford is generally a batting-friendly ground and should prove so again.

Date: 15th May 2015

Time: 6.30pm

Ground: Emirates Old Trafford

Umpires: Paul Baldwin & Tim Robinson

Odds (SkyBet): Lancashire 4/9, Leicestershire 7/4

Natwest T20 Blast Match Stats (in association with Opta):

Lancashire (74) have won the most matches in English domestic T20s.

The last two occasions that Leicestershire have progressed from the group stage they have gone on to win the tournament (2006 and 2011).

Enthralling Old Trafford finale sees Gloucestershire victorious

If there’s one thing to remember when making predictions on County Championship cricket, it’s that you really shouldn’t bother. The final day at Old Trafford brought more ebb and flow than anyone dared to believe possible.

Having all but ruled out the chances of a Lancashire victory at the end of the third day, and having placed Gloucestershire firmly in the driving seat, the obvious thing that would happen is that a Peter Siddle-inspired Red Rose would take six wickets before lunch and set up a very reachable target of 300.

Naturally bolder predictions were made, suggesting that Lancashire had every chance of chasing this down if they batted well. Cue the all-too-common plot twist that the longest version of cricket throws up. In the four overs before lunch Lancashire lost both openers in the space of five balls with the score on 11, placing the visitors back in front.

When Lancashire were reduced to 22-4 shortly after lunch, their victory chances were once again dismissed, relegating their expectations to merely batting out for a draw.

Enter Alviro Petersen and Alex Davies, who swiftly set about making a mockery of those predictions with a wonderfully constructed century stand. Despite losing Davies to the last ball before tea, Lancashire had reached 140-5, needing another 160 in 37.4 overs.

But there is a second thing to remember when making predictions on the County Championship: once you’ve made it, stick to it. For Gloucestershire were indeed victorious and their seamers were terrific after tea, claiming the five wickets they needed to secure a superb victory.

Resuming on 206-3 with a lead of 230, Gloucestershire set off with their feet firmly on the pedal as they attempted to push on to a big advantage. Unfortunately Hamish Marshall’s foot was firmly on the brakes and when Peter Handscomb decided to take a run off the sixth ball of the morning, both ended up at the same end when Alex Davies whipped off the bails to end their 134-run partnership.

To continue the motoring metaphor, the wheels started to come off for Gloucestershire when Geraint Jones departed eleven balls later. The former England keeper launched Simon Kerrigan for a six but perished when he tried to repeat the blow, succeeding in only picking out Petersen.

The brakes were applied as they took just nine runs from the next six overs. When Marshall had his off stump ripped out by Kyle Jarvis for 92, the visitors were 237-6 and Lancashire smelled blood. Kerrigan trapped Tom Smith lbw before Siddle launched a savage assault on the tail enders with the new ball and took Craig Miles and David Payne in consecutive overs.

Liam Norwell dislocated his finger in the field on Monday and was unable to bat. That was the end of the Gloucestershire innings and their total of 275-9 set up a tantalising target of 300.

It’s one of the great clichés cricket: the ‘testing little period’ before a break. Lancashire were left to face four overs before lunch and never has a cliché proved to be more accurate. After a positive start from Paul Horton, it all went downhill. With the score on 11, Lancashire lost first Luis Reece for just two and Horton five balls later for nine.

Lunch was taken two balls early and it was Gloucestershire who were tucking into their lunchtime fare with greater relish.

When Ashwell Prince nicked a good ball from Miles through to Gareth Roderick ten balls after lunch, Lancashire had lost three wickets for two runs and their thoughts had swiftly turned from attacking a target to saving the game. Captain Steven Croft didn’t help much, as he was caught behind off David Payne for just one to leave his side 22-4after 8.1 overs. They were on the ropes and Gloucestershire were flying.

Petersen and Davies did a terrific job of arresting that momentum and putting Lancashire back in with a chance thanks to their 118-run partnership, but when Davies fell to Kieran Noema-Barnett on the stroke of tea, momentum shifted again.

There was no hint of Lancashire batting for a draw after tea, but the loss of Petersen for 63 and Siddle for 12 left them 165-7, still 135 runs short of their target and all but ended their chances of a win.

Spinner Tom Smith’s re-introduction into the attack gave Lancashire hope again. Jordan Clark greeted his return with two sixes, and Nathan Buck hit two more in the next over. Lancs were 203-7, needing another 93.

As was the way throughout the whole day, the moment a side built hope it was dashed quickly by the opposition. Norwell continued to impress and removed Buck for 17, when he got a feather nick through to the keeper, and five balls later Clark was lbw to Miles for a 44-ball 34, reducing Lancashire to 203-9.

Craig Miles wrapped things up by bowling Kerrigan for a duck and secured a terrific 91-run win for Gloucestershire to take 22 points.

Replacing Pietersen is like trying to replace Warne, claims Siddle

Peter Siddle says he is pleased that he won’t be having to face Kevin Pietersen in an England shirt in The Ashes this summer and believes he is an irreplaceable player in the same way Shane Warne was for Australia.

The seamer, who has just completed his final game for Lancashire, was responding to the announcement from the ECB and new Director of England cricket Andrew Strauss that Pietersen’s recall to the team was ‘not in the best interests of the side’ due to a lack of trust.

Siddle believes that certain types of players are irreplaceable and compared the Pietersen situation to the struggle Australia had trying to replace Shane Warne.

“There’s never really been a lot of players like that,” Siddle said at Old Trafford.

“You can’t find someone to replace him. It’s like trying to find someone to replace Shane Warne. I think those players are once in a lifetime, with their confidence and aggression in the field.

“You can never replace them and that’s what people have to come terms with. Players like that don’t grow on trees. I don’t know if they are less frightening without him. It’s an Ashes series.

“Whatever line up gets thrown at us we just have to be ready for them and attack them the best we can.”

Siddle, who has dismissed Pietersen more times in Test cricket than any other bowler, says he will be happy to not have to face the batsman and believes Australia went through similar struggles on the last Ashes tour.

“A bloke that averages 50 in test cricket I’m happy enough to have out the side,” Siddle said. “Get somebody in who averages less.

“I can’t be fussed about it really. I think we’ve been through our own thing over here last time. I think the way we turned things around in a short time does make you a little bit wary.

“We just worried about the cricket and that got us the good results so we’ll just be worried about that when we come out here.

“I’ll miss the opportunity to bowl at him but the bloke averages 50 – you don’t want to be bowling against blokes who average 50 all the time.”

Century stand sets up Gloucestershire victory push

It’s probably fair to say that the eyes of the cricketing world were not on Old Trafford at 11am this morning, as a certain Mr. Strauss chose a particularly inconvenient time to tell the world a certain Mr. Pietersen wasn’t trusted and his selection wasn’t ‘in the short-term interests’ of the England team.

Lancashire will probably feel that selecting Paul Horton for their next Championship game will be ‘in the short-term interests’ of the team, despite his knock of 168 here paling into insignificance when compared to Pietersen’s unbeaten 355 at The Oval.

Horton, who resumed on 134 this morning looked in total control as he passed his 150 and fell just five runs short of his best ever Lancashire score. His efforts were crucial in getting his side within touching distance of Gloucestershire’s first-innings total as they eventually trailed by 24.

Despite early breakthroughs, a century stand between Peter Handscomb and Hamish Marshall ensured that it is Gloucestershire who go into the final day hoping for victory as they closed Day Three with a commanding lead of 230 and will set about teeing up a victory charge in the morning.

Lancashire started the third day knowing that late wickets last evening had left them with work to do to keep themselves in the game. With Horton at the crease they had a man in form and he found a more than able deputy in Peter Siddle. Resuming on 276/6, a deficit of 112, Horton and Siddle extended their partnership to 82 before Liam Norwell trapped Siddle lbw shortly after he had caught him on the helmet with a bouncer.

Horton fell nine balls later and the final three Lancashire wickets yielded just 17 runs. Norwell finished the innings with four wickets to back up the ten wickets he took in the match against Essex last week and move himself to the second highest wicket-taker in Division Two.

The 24-run lead was obviously positive for Gloucestershire but Lancashire knew that early inroads could give them the momentum in the match. Cue Siddle, who charged in from the Pavilion end and soon had his reward. Chris Dent, off the back of his century in the first innings, shouldered arms to a full ball that nipped back and sent his off stump cartwheeling. That left Gloucestershire 9/1 and, at 30/1, Siddle struck again when he trapped Gareth Roderick plumb lbw for four.

When rain came at 3.22pm, an early tea was taken and Will Tavare and Peter Handscomb had battled hard under the floodlights to reach 64-2 from 21 overs and hold a lead of 88. The game was finely balanced. A string of Lancashire wickets would leave the visitors feeling edgy about their slender lead but, if Gloucestershire could steady the ship and build on their advantage in the lengthy evening session, they could seize the initiative heading into the final day.

Pressure intensified on Gloucestershire when Nathan Buck got reward for some good bowling and claimed his first Championship wicket for Lancashire as he forced Will Tavare, who had looked in good nick, to chop onto his stumps for 34. That left the score at 76-3 and that lead a precarious 100.

But Handscomb and Marshall ensured that it wasn’t precarious for long. Marshall came in and got off to a flyer with a string of boundaries and the runs began to flow. Handscomb was the first to bring up his 50 off 99 balls and he was followed soon after by Marshall who took 83 balls for his half-century. When their fourth-wicket stand had reached 100, they had stretched the lead to 200. It was no longer precarious and from a Lancashire perspective it was looking increasingly insurmountable.

At the close, Gloucestershire had reached 206/3 and a lead of 230. While the smart money remains firmly on a draw on what is still a fairly batsman-friendly wicket, the final session has given the visitors the chance to set up a tilt at the win and has left Lancashire realistically with only the draw to play for.

Horton stars but late wickets stall Lancashire charge

It is sometimes difficult to judge which side has come out on top after a days cricket. Perhaps the best way to make that judgement is to break it down by session and on that basis, this was Gloucestershire’s day by two sessions to one.

They were positive in the opening session, building on their overnight total before claiming the wicket of Luis Reece before lunch. From there Paul Horton starred, racking up a brilliant century and, alongside Ashwell Prince, guided Lancashire to a position of control at tea and easily won the session for Lancashire.

After tea, something of a collapse occurred and meant that Gloucestershire claimed the final session as Lancs slipped from 207/2 to 265/6 before closing on 276/6.

Gloucestershire had ended the opening day in a strong position on 322/7 overnight having won the toss and electing to bat. Kieran Noema-Barnett and Craig Miles set about building on the platform given to them by Chris Dent’s century and were aggressive in the morning session. Peter Siddle and Kyle Jarvis bowled superbly and were unlucky on several occasions as inside and outside edges came and went without the fall of a wicket.

When Miles fell lbw to Siddle, Noema-Barnett went on the attack, prompting Lancashire skipper Steven Croft to place eight fielders on the fence. Jarvis claimed David Payne caught and bowled before Croft’s boundary-rider tactic worked as New Zealander Noema-Barnett picked out Nathan Buck on the fence to give Jarvis his fourth wicket. Gloucestershire ended on 388, just 12 runs short of securing maximum batting points but would have been pleased with their total and happy enough to have added 66 runs in 13.2 overs of the morning.

In response, Lancashire’s opening pair of Horton and Reece were kept quiet early doors by some accurate and penetrating bowling from Payne and Miles. The introduction of Liam Norwell, who took ten wickets in the match against Essex last week, proved inspired as he took the wicket of Reece, just as he was starting to look fluent. The left-hander opener attempted a pull shot but got an under-edge through to keeper Gareth Roderick as the home side headed for lunch on 31/1.

The big summer arrival at Old Trafford was Alviro Petersen and after his first innings of the season, a century against Derbyshire, it looked like an inspired move. Since then, the South African has hit scores of 9, 0, 22*, and 1 so the pressure was on him to find some form here. That didn’t happen as he was bowled by Miles for just seven, leaving Lancashire on 73/2.

From there it was one-way traffic. Horton continued his innings with consummate ease and soon passed 50 from just 94 balls and Prince, chasing a third successive century, settled quickly into his stride. The pair put on a 100 partnership from 21 overs and Horton soon brought up his own personal century from just 150 balls. It was the 21st first-class century of his career and the sixth at Old Trafford for a player who had been coming under some pressure. Meanwhile, Prince put himself back on top of the Division Two runs-scoring table, a position he had lost to Gloucestershire’s Chris Dent in the first innings.

At tea, Lancashire had marched on to 194/2 from 49 overs and had quickly halved Gloucestershire’s lead of 388.

Gloucestershire’s bowlers were starting to toil. Norwell and Miles were being picked off at will by the imperious Horton and Prince, while Noema-Barnett did little to inspire. It looked like the final session was going to be more of the same as Prince reached his 50 off 74 balls, before flashing at a wide one in the third over of the session and was caught behind off the bowling of Miles.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the runs dried up, and Horton took 20 overs to progress from his century to 119 in what was proving to be an attritional final session. The momentum Lancashire had built under Horton and Prince was soon to disappear.

They always say you should add two wickets to any score and that proved to be the case for Lancashire in the 68th over. First, Croft missed a straight one from Noema-Barnett and was trapped in front for 20 and with the very next ball new-man to the crease Alex Davies was run out for 0. He pushed to backward point and ran- Horton didn’t- and Will Tavare did the rest.

When Jordan Clark was lbw to Norwell with six overs to go in the day, Lancashire had slipped from 207-2 to 265-6. Those four wickets after tea changed the complexion of the day and leaves Gloucestershire with their noses in front in this match.