Outlaws’ Blast hopes rocked in Blackpool
STEVEN Croft delighted a sell-out crowd at his home club Blackpool with an excellent unbeaten 61 as Lancashire put one foot in the Vitality Blast quarter-finals at Nottinghamshire’s expense.
Croft was born in the seaside town and is much loved at Stanley Park, where 4,500 packed in to watch the Lightning claim a seventh win in 10 games by chasing 180 for the loss of four wickets with 10 balls remaining to return to the North Group’s summit.
The 37-year-old former county captain hit four fours and two sixes in 44 balls and also dented the hopes of perennial Blast challengers Notts, who languish outside the top four qualifying places having lost five of nine games.
If the popular opinion that seven wins will qualify you for the quarterfinals rings true this year, the Red Rose are there following a thirdwicket partnership of 114 with current skipper Dane Vilas, who made 55 off 30 to advance from 31 for two.
Nottinghamshire’s 179-7 included Samit Patel’s 45 off 36 balls and captain Dan Christian’s unbeaten 30 off 14 with two leg-side sixes off the last two balls of the innings from Danny Lamb.
Despite 19 off that last over, Lancashire would have been delighted with their efforts, with fast bowler Richard Gleeson – another Blackpool product – taking 1-24 from four overs.
Spinners Tom Hartley and Luke Wells stood out more with 2-27 and 1-20 from their respective four-over spells as the Lightning (15 points) leapfrogged pre-game leaders Northamptonshire.
Nottinghamshire openers Alex Hales and Joe Clarke fell in the space of six balls in the third and fourth overs.
Tom Bailey got Hales caught at deep midwicket for 22 having hit two sixes earlier in the over. Clarke then miscued Gleeson to mid-on.
Ben Duckett shared 46 in six overs with Patel before being dismissed when well set for 29 by a mixture of fortune and ingenuity from Lightning wicketkeeper Vilas.
Duckett lap swept Hartley’s leftarm spin, only for Vilas to anticipate, move down leg and take a rebound catch off his body.
Patel also shared 45 inside six with fourth-wicket partner Tom Moores. But they fell in the 15th over, bowled by Hartley, when the acceleration loomed.
Patel was caught at deep midwicket sweeping – 126-5 – having seen Moores run out haring back for two earlier in the over.
Steven Mullaney was lbw to the leg-spin of Wells, leaving Notts at 132-6 after one ball of the 17th. But Christian, with the help of Calvin Harrison’s breezy 17, gave the Outlaws a late boost, sharing an unbroken 47.
Despite 24 off 13 balls for opener Keaton Jennings, Nottinghamshire were given further cheer as the Lightning fell to 31-2 in the fifth over of their chase.
Both openers, Jennings and Josh Bohannon, miscued catches in the ring off Luke Fletcher and Dane Paterson.
At that stage, the game was evenly poised. Not for long, however, as experienced pair Croft and Vilas made hay in the Fylde Coast sunshine.
Croft made the early running by pulling and sweeping sixes off Paterson’s seam and Patel’s left-arm spin before Vilas overtook him in the forties and reached a 24-ball fifty.
Vilas also hit two leg-side sixes off Harrison’s leg-spin and Fletcher’s seam, and by the time he reached his 50, Lancashire were 134-2 in the 13th and careering towards the season’s double over Notts.
Croft followed him to the same milestone off 34 before Paterson and Patel removed Vilas and Tim David caught at backward point. Though, at 152-4 in the 16th, they were only consolatory strikes.
Wells hit the winning runs, with Croft – having hit his second 50 off 2022 – punching the air in delight.