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.