Lancashire are no strangers to T20 Finals Day. This will be their sixth appearance at the showpiece event since the inaugural tournament in 2003. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, the Lightning have never won the competition – despite winning more T20 matches than every other English county.
There will be a strong sense of déjà vu after Lancashire were drawn in the second semi- final against Hampshire, just as they were 12 months ago. On that occasion, Lancashire romped to victory over the South Coast side before losing narrowly to Birmingham Bears in the final where, momentarily, we were faced with the marvellous prospect of Andrew Flintoff almost guiding the Lightning home.
A year down the line and, despite a vast change in personnel (only six of the starting side from last year’s final are likely to play), Lancashire will once again be tough opposition as they chase their first T20 crown. They are the only one of the four semi-finalists not to have won the competition and in Hampshire, they face a side who are appearing at Finals Day for a record-extending sixth consecutive year.
Lancashire have stuttered at times in the competition this year but have produced some crucial results when it mattered. Their victory over Yorkshire at Headingley was a huge boost and they did the double of their fierce rivals on the way to the quarter-finals. They also beat reigning T20 champions the Birmingham Bears at Edgbaston which will give them huge confidence going into tomorrow. Scraping out of the group on a rain-ravaged final day and a victory over Kent in the quarter-final by virtue of having lost fewer wickets may leave Lightning fans believing this could finally be their year.
Jos Buttler was instrumental in the victories at Headingley and Canterbury and the England wicket-keeper has been released to play in Finals Day. In his two appearances this season Buttler has hit 71* and 53 – averaging 124.00. James Anderson is unavailable, but given his performance at Finals Day last year it is unlikely he would have been picked anyway.
Lancashire will need their big players to deliver and in Buttler and James Faulkner they have two of the world’s genuine T20 superstars. They will also be heavily reliant, as they so often are, on their skipper Steven Croft. Saturday will be Croft’s 117th consecutive T20 appearance for Lancashire. Only IPL stars MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina can top Croft in that department. With bat, ball and as a leader Croft will be instrumental in whatever happens on Saturday and will be desperate to finally get his hands on the T20 trophy.
Strengths and Weaknesses
It is hard to put your finger on why Lancashire have fallen short so often at Finals Day. They have never had any major weaknesses but it has quite simply just never happened for them on the big stage. They’ve had fire power with the likes of Flintoff and Andrew Symonds, craft and guile with Stuart Law and Mal Loye and experience with Brad Hodge and Muttiah Muralitharan. It’s just not quite come together when they need it.
Looking at their likely line-up again this year there seems to be no obvious weakness. They boast that middle order firepower with Buttler, Faulkner, Croft and Jordan Clark that every side needs in T20. They have the experienced Ashwell Prince, who has had a great competition, anchoring the innings at the top and in Karl Brown and Liam Livingstone they have two young guns capable of firing at will. The batting at the start of the tournament was shaky, with Brown out of form and Buttler and Faulkner unavailable. Now the batting looks strong and shouldn’t let them down.
Lancashire’s major strength, however, is their spin bowling. Their trio of spinners, led by Stephen Parry and backed up by Arron Lilley and Croft have clinched so many games for them this season. While the powerplay overs have often been expensive, Lancashire have consistently dragged teams back with sometimes as many as 12 consecutive overs of spin. If Edgbaston turns, as it has at times this season, those three bowlers are a major weapon.
Perhaps the biggest area of concern for Ashley Giles will be his seam bowlers. Kyle Jarvis has had a super Championship season but can be wayward in the T20 and much the same can be said for Tom Bailey. Jordan Clark provides the all-rounder option but is also young and inconsistent. Hampshire will target the seamers in the semi-final.
Every side has an unsung hero and for Lancashire that man is Stephen Parry. The left-arm spinner has been in superb form this season and is the man that spearheads Lancashire’s impressive spin attack. Parry is the fourth highest wicket-taker in the competition this year and boasts an impressive economy rate of just 7.10. He offers captain Croft both control outside the powerplay and that wicket-taking threat that is so crucial in T20 cricket.
More often that not, Parry is thrown the ball to bowl the momentum-shifting seventh over of the innings and has a happy knack of picking up wickets of the crucial batsmen who have been swinging away during the powerplay. He dovetails brilliantly with the right-arm off spin of Lilley and the quicker, flatter spin from Croft. Parry can be a match-winner and if Lancashire are to have any chance of lifting the trophy on Saturday they need him to be at his best.
Edgbaston has spun quite substantially at times this season and if it does so again Parry will be the dangerman to the opposition. His 3-31 in the semi-final against Kent demonstrated his ability to perform for his side under pressure and Parry is proving himself to be one of the best limited overs spinners in the country on a consistent basis.
Previous Finals Day Appearances
Five previous Finals Day appearances have yielded little success, though they have been runners-up twice. As losing finalists last year, the Lightning will be desperate to go one better and take the title this year.
Road to Finals Day
4th in North Group: P14 W7 L6 A1 Pts 15 NRR +0.469
Quarter-Final: Lancashire 142/6 (Prince 62, Buttler 53) beat Kent 142 by virtue of having lost fewer wickets, at Canterbury
Lancashire Lightning squad:
Steven Croft (c), Tom Bailey, Karl Brown, Jos Buttler (wk), Jordan Clark, Alex Davies, George Edwards, James Faulkner, Gavin Griffiths, Simon Kerrigan, Arron Lilley, Liam Livingstone, Stephen Parry, Luke Procter, Ashwell Prince
To win the tournament: 3/1 (third favourites).
To beat Hampshire: Evens
Top run scorer: Steven Croft – 460 runs, average 51.11, strike rate 133.72
Top wicket taker: Stephen Parry – 21 wickets, average 16.57, economy rate 7.10
Total runs: 2252
Total wickets: 114