Lancashire Lightning reversed the result of last year’s NatWest T20 Blast final, beating Birmingham Bears by eight runs in a low-scoring but exciting game at Edgbaston. A fine all-round performance by Lancashire skipper Steven Croft was the difference between the sides. The Birmingham Bears have yet to clinch a home quarter-final whilst the Lancashire Lightning have improved their chances of qualifying.
Over eleven thousand noisy fans watched the match on a sunny, breezy evening. A slowish pitch did not make for rapid scoring but it did contribute towards a hard-fought contest with a close finish.
Chasing 146 to win, the Bears looked to be well on course when they were 72 in the tenth over. But they lost Tom Lewis and, crucially, Brendon McCullum in consecutive balls to Croft and the momentum slowed from then on, with wickets steadily falling. Lancashire gave little away in the field and took some excellent catches, not least the absolute blinder by that man Croft at backward point to remove Laurie Evans for 13. McCullum top-scored with 41 but no-one else got beyond Tom Lewis’s 21.
With two overs to go, the Bears needed 25 to win and though Oliver Hannon-Dalby hit an unlikely six, James Faulkner finished things off by catching an enormous skier off the penultimate ball to give Lancashire a well-deserved win. Faulkner played his part also with 3-19 which, together with Croft’s 2-16, squeezed the life out of the innings in a way that the Bears have so often done themselves.
Steven Croft took some of the gloss off his all-round performance with a display of petulance when a stumping appeal was turned down and he had a pointless spat with Rikki Clarke. Despite all that, it was still his and Lancashire’s night.
Having been put in to bat , Lancashire Lightning did well, in the end, to reach 145-6 after making a grim start to their innings. By the eighth over, they had stumbled to 38-4 with Rikki Clarke, not for the first time, bowling beautifully to take 1-7 off his three overs. Why he never got to bowl a fourth is a mystery. Thereafter, Jeetan Patel did the usual, taking 2-14 off his four overs but gradually Lancashire skipper Steven Croft wrested the initiative away from the Bears bowlers, this despite a nice spell of leg-spin variations from Josh Poysden.
With Luke Procter, Croft added 41 in 6.1 overs and then he and James Faulkner upped the pace to put on 59 off 5.3 overs for the sixth wicket. Both Oliver Hannon-Dalby and Recordo Gordon came in for punishment; Gordon’s radar, in particular, failed to function and he went for 48 off his four overs. Hannon-Dalby leaked 42 runs and though they took three wickets between them, the two pacemen failed to perform to their usual standards. The short leg-side boundary when the bowling was from the pavilion end provided only a partial excuse.
The Bears maintained a high standard in the field, though Hannon-Dalby did spill an early return chance from Ashwell Prince and Recordo Gordon dived over one ball that went for four. Brendon McCullum provided a comedy moment by undertaking a brilliant stop but, in seeking to flick the ball to a colleague succeeded in sending it thirty yards past him.
The match has given Lancashire’s chances of qualifying a timely boost. Who knows, both they and the Bears could be back at Edgbaston on Finals Day. Tonight’s result has certainly heightened that possibility.