Lancashire 162 for 3 (Croft 76*, Vilas 51) beat Essex 161 for 5 (Pepper 36) by seven wickets
I suppose it had to happen sometime. Perhaps it was written in the stars above Todmorden that it would be this year of all years. In little more than six days’ time Lancashire will play Yorkshire in the semi-final of the Vitality Blast at Edgbaston. They will do so partly thanks to the efforts of two cricketers who are divided by a county border yet share more than they might acknowledge.
Croft is in some of the form of his life, a point Lancashire should note given that the 37-year-old is in the final year of his current contract. With Lancashire needing 162 to reach Finals Day – it looked six to five and pick ’em at half-time – Croft drove Dan Sams for a thunderous six and then top-edged him for an altogether jammier one. It set the tone for the rest of an innings in which the Essex bowlers got no rest. Indeed, they looked back fondly to the sixth ball of Lancashire’s reply when Sam Cook got a cuticle to a fierce drive from Salt and ran out Keaton Jennings for nought. That was as good as it got for Simon Harmer’s team, a fact the visiting skipper acknowledged later.
Lancashire’s skipper struggled for runs in the Blast last year but his return to form in 2022 has been clear. This evening it was plain in his 22-ball fifty and epitomised by the slog-swept six that went through the temporary wall separating the outfield from Lancashire’s latest building site. Vilas fell to Harmer for 51 when his side needed five to win but it was a footnote at best. Whereas Yorkshire needed to dig very deep to get past a Surrey side who were thinking about Edgbaston hotels, Lancashire motored home, Havana cigar in hand.
Essex ended the Powerplay with 53 runs on the board and continued to score at eight runs an over throughout the innings. Yet their total seemed respectable on a used pitch that we thought might suit Harmer and Critchley. It did not turn out that way partly because Croft is enjoying his best-ever season in T20 cricket and now needs just 46 runs to beat Lancashire’s short-form record, which is held by Tom Smith, the Yorkshire coach. The veteran’s batting will surely have delighted Cartmel Cricket Club’s Barmy Army, who draped their banner over the balcony outside one of the rooms at the Hilton Garden Hotel. The catering at Emirates Old Trafford might not match that at L’Enclume, the restaurant in their Cumbrian village that boasts three Michelin stars, but they will have had a great night, too.
And if a word of caution is needed, Lancashire might note that while they have reached their ninth Finals Day, a record matched only by their fellow semi-finalists Hampshire, they now need to improve their poor record on the big day in Birmingham, where they have prevailed in just three semi-finals and won the trophy only once. Steven Croft of Lancashire will note such things but he will probably observe that trends are meant to be bucked just as age is only a number. It is difficult not to be delighted for him, although Jordan Thompson of Yorkshire might manage it.