Lancashire will need to pick themselves up off the floor, and quickly, as they take the trip to Canterbury for the Vitality Blast quarter-finals.
A heartbreaking defeat on the final day of their pink-ball County Championship match against Surrey at the Oval is not ideal preparation for their T20 bid – especially as they have just 24 hours to recover.
Their battling effort was ultimately in vain as Surrey clinched an eight-run win to boost their title bid and leave Lancashire six points adrift at the bottom of the table.
But the 2015 Blast champions will be grateful to return to white-ball action with this crunch quarter-final against Kent. The shortest form of the game has provided the only respite for the Red Rose in an otherwise disappointing season.
They won three of their last four matches to almost clinch a home quarter-final, but defeat to Birmingham coupled with the Bears loss to Worcestershire meant that the Lightning finished third in the North Group and teed up a trip to Canterbury.
That was the venue for Lancashire’s quarter-final in 2015, which they won en route to the title – by virtue of having lost fewer wickets in a thrilling tie.
It was a competition of two halves for Lancashire, punctuated largely by injury to captain Liam Livingstone. That, along with Keaton Jennings’ departure to the England Test side, left a big hole in Lancashire’s batting that they’ve struggled to fill.
But the Lightning, bidding for a seventh Finals Day appearance, have been boosted by the ECB’s decision to allow Jennings and England teammate Jos Buttler to feature – a decision Lancashire assistant coach Mark Chilton is thrilled with.
“I do think the ECB should value the quarter-finals of this competition and it’s good to see that they have in allowing those two to play,” he said.
“They were certainly a key part of our planning and a key part of our success earlier in the tournament so for us as a side I suppose it’s a welcome bonus.
“I suppose we can reflect back on that [three years ago] and take a lot of positive thought from that game we had, that was a fantastic victory.
“They’re a good team but I think everybody knows that in T20 cricket, a couple of players have a day out, anybody can take that game on so we will go into that game in good shape.”
Kent have no trouble with their batting, with the stars that guided them to the final of the Royal London One-Day Cup starring again in the shorter format.
The Spitfires haven’t made Finals Day since 2009, having won the competition in 2007.
Joe Denly has one century and two half-centuries while captain Sam Billings has been available for the majority of the competition – boasting a very impressive average of 55.83 from 11 innings.
Their second-placed finish in the South Group, losing only two matches, was a reflection of the strength of their one-day unit, following their runners-up performance in the one-day cup.
The Canterbury side are having a superb all-round season, pushing hard for promotion from Division Two of the County Championship alongside their white-ball exploits.
A trip to Edgbaston for Finals Day would be another step towards a memorable 2018 for the Spitfires as they bid for their second T20 crown.
Heino Kuhn’s run of form in the Royal London One-Day Cup caught the headlines but he hasn’t quite reached the same heights in the Blast. Just the one half-century will disappoint the opener but he comes into this quarter-final on the back of a terrific score in the County Championship as his 96* guided Kent to victory over Leicestershire. Lancashire will want to remove him early.
In the absence of Liam Livingstone, Alex Davies has taken on the mantle at the top of the order for Lancashire. He only struck his maiden T20 half-century this season but has gone on to break the record for the most fifties struck by a Lancashire player in a T20 season – notching six with a high score of 94*.
Davies has been the key run-scorer for Lancashire on their way to this quarter-final and will be a crucial cog again at the top of the order alongside Buttler.
Joe Denly, Sam Billings and Heino Kuhn will spearhead the Kent batting unit while Denly has also been a valuable weapon with the ball this season. Callum Haggett and Adam Milne were crucial figures in their Blast campaign.
Kent Squad: Sam Billings (c/wk), Joe Denly, Daniel Bell-Drummond, Heino Kuhn, Marcus Stoinis, Alex Blake, Sean Dickson, Calum Haggett, Adam Milne, Imran Qayyum, Mitch Claydon, Ivan Thomas, Harry Podmore, Grant Stewart, Zak Crawley
Lancashire are a different proposition with Buttler and Jennings back in the side. Where their batting looked threadbare they now have plenty of options. Karl Brown is likely to drop to the middle order alongside Jennings, with Buttler opening. The Lighting have an incredible depth to their spin department and will assess the pitch before deciding how many to deploy.
It remains to be seen whether Surrey-bound Jordan Clark is included after missing the Championship defeat.
Lancashire Squad: Alex Davies, Aaron Lilley, Danny Lamb, Dane Vilas, Jos Buttler, Jordan Clark, James Faulkner, Karl Brown, Keaton Jennings, Matt Parkinson, Mark Watt, Steven Croft, Toby Lester, Zahir Khan
Weather and Conditions
Rain earlier on in the afternoon is set to clear for a bright evening in Canterbury. It’s often a ground where runs can come quickly and both sides will hope to cash in.
Date: 23rd August 2018
Ground: The Spitfire Ground, St Lawrence, Canterbury
Odds (SkyBet): Kent 10/11, Lancashire 10/11