Junaid matches Flintoff feat in narrow win
Lancashire 126 (Smith 44, Patel 3-15) beat Warwickshire 111 (Evans 29, Junaid 4-12) by 15 runs
You just couldn't make this one up. The day Lancashire announced the re-signing of a club legend in Andrew Flintoff, one of his exceptional bowling spells from the past was matched by miserly Pakistani pacer Junaid Khan.
It put Lancashire in a strong early position to qualify from the North Division with a fourth win from five. They had to do it on the back of being bowled out for 126 but eventually beat Warwickshire by 15 runs.
This was a triumphant day for the Red Rose, who had also beaten Durham on Thursday defending only 132, though Friday's even looked like being a case of after the Lord Mayor's Show for large parts.
Only four Lancashire batsmen reached double figures, including 44 for Tom Smith, as they slipped from 70 for 2 after nine overs following their decision to bat first. Boyd Rankin troubled them greatly with pace and bounce on the way to 2 for 12 - an encouraging sign after his recent troubles.
Junaid then returned 4 for 12 from his four overs, including three wickets in his last two overs, to equal the county's second-best bowling figures in T20 history after Flintoff had returned the same figures against Durham at Chester-le-Street in 2008.
Wickets fell in clusters throughout this match. Lancashire lost three in eight balls in the tenth and eleventh overs and four wickets in 14 balls in the 16th, 17th and 18th overs to put the skids under their innings.
But Warwickshire lost their first four wickets for five runs in 13 balls to slip to 34 for 4 in the seventh over and they could not recover on a sluggish pitch best suiting spin. Kabir Ali took two wickets in the last over while defending 20.
Although Junaid stole the limelight, left-arm spinner Stephen Parry was excellent with 2 for 12 through the middle of the Bears innings, which saw only Tim Ambrose and Laurie Evans pass 20.
"I think it's really good that we're winning these close games. To win by 15, it's quite a big win in the end," left-armer Parry said, whose wife Louise is due with their second child tomorrow. "To win them games, it's a great feeling. Even if we'd have lost that game, we showed we can take those down to the wire. It's exciting times.
"Junaid was superb. To have someone up front and at the death of that level is a massive asset. He's a wicket-taker, and he gets hit for very little as well. I can see why Mike Watkinson and Peter Moores wanted to sign him back."
The pair's exploits with the ball stand out like a beacon in the match's final reckoning, but they also added a crucial last-wicket stand of 17 to push Lancashire up beyond 120.
Flintoff warmed up with the squad before the game, both with bat and ball in the nets and then on the outfield as part of some extensive fielding drills. This was night was supposed to be the calm before the storm of his first-team return in next Friday's Roses clash. It was anything but.