Lancashire played the perfect game at the Spitfire Ground to deny Kent the chance to avenge their heartbreaking defeat in the 2015 quarter-final of the T20 Blast.
From the moment that in-form Daniel Bell-Drummond was run-out without facing a ball in utterly village fashion, to the moment that Jordan Clark scooped the fiery Kiwi Adam Milne for four, the narrative arc of the match read like it had been written by a Lancashire fan with an aversion to sixes and a fondness for leg breaks.
If you wanted to speculate about the author of the narrative, one candidate could be Matthew Parkinson’s mum. Earlier in the week, he poked forward at a delivery from Morné Morkel and was caught at short leg by the sprightly Will Jacks. Not an unusual event for a man with a first-class batting average south of six, but it cost Lancashire the game in what could end up being crucial to their first-division title by the end of the season.
Today, though, Parkinson was the toast of the north. Even though Lancashire were already 43-3 by the time he was brought on to bowl (Heino Kuhn and Joe Denly nicked off after the run out), it was his 3-27 that turned the match into a rout.
On a fresh pitch that could have been curated by a Lancashire supporter tailored to the strengths of their seamers and spinners, they restricted the hosts to a measly 133-9 with solid bowling and their characteristically tight, athletic fielding.
He went wicketless in his first over, but the spin was evident from the start and he was impossible to get away. Spinning his leg breaks hard with none of the mystery coveted by other masters of the wrist-spinning art, the first ball of his second over brought the reward when Sean Dickson slapped it straight up in the air and was easily caught by Alex Davies. Davies also held on to Parkinson’s third wicket, pouching Alex Blake in the deep.
It was Parkinson’s second wicket that impressed the most. Bowling to the much-vaunted Marcus Stoinis, he ripped a ball from outside leg stump to clip the Australian’s pads. The appeal was turned down. The very next delivery, Parkinson found the edge and Stoinis was gone for a duck.
The rout turned embarrassing for the home side after they saw out Parkinson’s set. All hopes rested on the captain Sam Billings, who played responsibly for his 37. He was bowled brilliantly by Zahir Khan, who complemented Parkinson’s traditional leg spin with his pacy varieties.
And one by one, Kent’s tail succumbed to the seamers. They managed to avoid being bowled out thanks to Imran Qayyum’s 21, a vast improvement on his previous T20 high score of six.
The only caveat to Lancashire’s joy was the performance of Test centurion Jos Buttler. Made available by the ECB for this match, he took his catches well enough, but he was otherwise inconsistent behind the stumps and missed a stumping chance.
When his turn to bat arrived, Kent faithful would have been hoping at least to see some of the magic he treated England fans to at Trent Bridge. Joe Denly had other ideas, though – he tore a leg break past Buttler and he was stumped by erstwhile England colleague Sam Billings.
It was the England player that perhaps nobody would travel across the country to watch live in a T20 who starred for the visitors. He cover-drove exceptionally, and tucked a tricky reverse sweep to prove to sceptical England fans watching that he still has a lot to offer with the bat.
He also proved himself an outstanding sportsman – before his innings was properly underway, he struck a shot into the deep which bounced and hit Mitchell Claydon nastily in the face.
In what was already looking like a potentially difficult chase, Jennings called his partner to stop running and checked on the fielder’s welfare. Whatever becomes of his international career, Jennings is classy in every sense of the word.
His steady innings of 46 came to an end with some smart work from Billings behind the stumps. While he would have been bitterly disappointed not to see the game through to its conclusion, he had kept the side on track and some smart running from Dane Vilas and Jordan Clark closed out the win to settle Lancashire nerves, no doubt already shredded from the thriller at the Oval earlier in the week.
The Spitfires may have felt themselves in with a chance as they restricted the flow of boundaries, but when Jordan Clark swiped Claydon for a magisterial six to leave them needing 11 from 12, the victory was all but assured.
For Kent, the maturity of Billings both with the bat and in marshalling his troops, was a consolation on a tough night suffused with the bitter aroma of déjà vu. For Lancashire, party time in Canterbury once again. The dreams of another triumph like 2015 live on.