On the day that the 13th Doctor Who was announced, to much hype and conversation, it was Lancashire’s mercurial star that took centre stage at Old Trafford as Jos Buttler played the decisive role in their five-wicket T20 Blast victory over Derbyshire.
Armed not with a sonic screwdriver but indeed a blade of willow, Buttler played a canny knock in testing conditions to steer his side to their target of 153 with nine balls to spare.
Known for keeping his feet firmly on planet earth and belting the ball through time and space, this wasn’t your typical Buttler innings. But, just as the Doctor can’t always fight fire with fire, sometimes the task at hand calls for a cool head and calm mind and that’s exactly what Buttler displayed.
His 42 from 37 balls featured just three boundaries, but was exactly what Lancashire needed from him.
After Karl Brown and Liam Livingstone had got the Lightning off to a strong start, and ahead of the required rate at 38-0 after four overs, things began to get a little sticky for the home side.
Livingstone had made timing look easy during his 14-ball stay at the crease, flat-batting Matt Henry over long on for an extraordinary six and launching Imran Tahir down the ground for another maximum.
But South African Tahir was cast in the role of The Master for this particular episode and celebrated with great gusto when he had Livingstone caught by Wayne Madsen for 23.
Arron Lilley came and went first ball, caught expertly by Matt Critchley at backward point, and after the powerplay Lancashire were 54-2. Brown was well set but rather threw his wicket away, picking out long on to depart for 30.
Enter Buttler, who emerged from the dugout not the TARDIS, to a superhero’s welcome from the near 7000-strong Old Trafford crowd – regrettably Old Trafford is equally as big on the inside as it is on the outside.
But every Doctor needs a companion and Buttler’s were falling by the wayside. Skipper Steven Croft was gone for four – sending Tahir into a celebratory frenzy once more.
Buttler found willing and able assistance in Dane Vilas and the pair began to nudge and nurdle their way to the target, running hard and playing intelligent, no-risk cricket.
It was much the same when Vilas regenerated after his dismissal and was replaced by fellow South African Ryan McLaren. Together, Buttler and McLaren put on 43 from just 30 balls.
An exemplification of Lancashire’s tactical approach was the fact that no boundaries were hit between 9.3 and the end of the 17th over. That was brought to a halt by McLaren and Lancashire ended the match with a flurry of fours.
Buttler crunched a magnificent pull shot in the 18th over to settle any nerves, and McLaren took them over the line thanks to two fours through the covers.
The England star believes Lancashire have what it takes to win the competition this year.
“There’s no reason why we can’t win it,” Buttler said.
“We’ve got loads of bowling options and with the bat we bat very deep, so that’s a huge bonus to have in T20.
“We are a good enough side that if we can brush up on a couple of things, we can show that we’re a side that can go on to win the tournament.
“I love being back here and playing, I’m enjoying some time being part of the team.
“Today was about being adaptable. It’s something I try to pride myself on in run chases, trying to be there at the end and trying to play the situation.
“We just needed a couple of partnerships, we weren’t under pressure from the run rate because the guys got off to a good start. It was a solid win.”
Lancashire had named a side with five spinners in it, and eight of the first nine overs of the Derbyshire innings were bowled by spin.
One of those, Livingstone, struck in the second over to remove Billy Godleman but, in general, Derbyshire seemed to be comfortable against the slower bowlers and made 59-1 from eight overs – including a 53-run stand between Matt Critchley and Luis Reece.
But Critchley, who was dropped by Parry on 21, fell for a 24-ball 40 when he became Matt Parkinson’s first victim on his white-ball debut.
Parkinson would finish with figures of 4-0-17-3 and fared much better than Derbyshire T20 debutant spinner Hamidullah Qadri, the 16-year-old bowling just the one over that went for 12.
Lancashire’s bowling at the back-end of the innings ultimately won them the match. At 111-2 from 14 overs, Derbyshire were well set.
But Parkinson and Junaid Khan in particular dragged them back, Junaid finishing with 3-28 from his four overs including Wayne Madsen and Hardus Viljoen in the final over.
Derbyshire made 41-6 from their final six overs, despite Madsen reaching his half-century from just 34 balls, to finish on 152-8. On a slow pitch it looked competitive, but ultimately it wasn’t enough of a challenge for Lancashire.
22 overs of the match were bowled by spin and in total 17 bowlers were used by the two teams – a record for T20 cricket in England and one short of the T20 record anywhere in the world.
It was the first defeat of the competition for Derbyshire, who fell victim to Lancashire’s intergalactic star.
Oh, and Jodie Whittaker was named as the new Doctor Who – the first ever female Doctor. In case you were wondering.