Volcanic Finch sees Yorks steal derby
Yorkshire 180 for 5 (Finch 88) beat Lancashire179 for 6 (Horton 60, Smith 55) by five wickets
Rarely able to take a trick in the County Championship this season, Lancashire have utilised force and finesse to make difficult contracts in the NatWest T20 Blast. That they failed to maintain that fine record in the first short-form Roses match this season can be explained by the volcanic batting of Aaron Finch, whose 55-ball 88 kept his side in the hunt to score at a demanding nine-an-over and also by the apparent tardiness of Lancashire's bowlers, who were penalised six runs for a slow over rate.
The umpires' sanction was imposed at the end of the nineteenth over and it left Yorkshire needing just nine runs to win the game instead of 15 they would otherwise have required. Richard Pyrah then deposited the otherwise excellent Kabir Ali's third delivery over the cover boundary to seal a five-wicket victory.
Home skipper Paul Horton was left citing his own generosity in allowing Finch and Alex Lees time to change gloves, but he also paid proper tribute to the quality of the Australian opener as "the best T20 batsman in the world".
Few of the 16,000 sell-out crowd who watched Finch's thunderous innings on Friday would dispute Horton's judgement. Even the partisans whose chants recalled the glory days of Lancashire's one-day history applauded the glorious Jessopian ferocity of the sixes which the Victorian struck off Jordan Clark's final over. The first of these hit tested the topmost window of The Point, Lancashire's nearly new hospitality facility; the second disappeared between the same building and Old Trafford's new scoreboard and bounced away towards Altrincham.
Yet remarkably, Finch also showed great patience, particularly during his 99-run second-wicket stand with Alex Lees. He defended the many good balls bowled by the Lancashire attack and bided his time on occasions. For all that he hit eight fours and five sixes, he displayed considerable nous in judging what was required, albeit that his dismissal - caught at short-third man by Junaid Khan off Tom Smith - seemed to leave Lancashire as favourites. The umpires may have then helped Yorkshire in their quest to score 36 runs off 17 balls but this was still about as good a game as the T20 format can produce.
Lancashire's innings was a curious cricketing sandwich. Inspired principally by Smith's wonderfully clean hitting, the home side racked up 65 runs in the Powerplay overs, only to find their progress stalled by the slow bowlers Azeem Rafiq and Adil Rashid.
A mere 15 came off the first four overs bowled by the Yorkshire spinners and that brief spell of control for the visitors included the loss of Smith's wicket when Lyth, leaping on the long-off boundary palmed a booming straight drive back to Finch, who had raced across from long-on to assist matters. Even when one accepts that such dismissals have become almost routine in the rapidly developing world of T20, Lyth's athleticism and quickness of mind still made one catch breath.
Still well placed at 80 for 2 halfway through the innings, Lancashire maintained that rate of progress. The batsman responsible for that creditable progress was the frequently maligned Horton. In cricket's endearingly bizarre argot, TV commentators and spectators have criticised Lancashire's T20 skipper for plinking, clothing or smearing the ball, so awry seemed his timing on occasions. Yet when he was bowled in the final over by Olly Robinson, thus giving the 20-year-old Yorkshireman his maiden senior wicket, Horton had crafted his way to 60 off 45 balls and had once again produced a valuable innings in a format which, one might think, is scarcely suited to his accumulative diligence.
Assisted by brief innings from Jos Buttler and the undefeated Steven Croft, Horton had guided his side to a very competitive 179, leaving Yorkshire as slightly second favourites. Rashid and Rafiq had been the best of Gale's bowlers, both spinners varying their pace and making good use of the long boundaries prepared with Stephen Parry and Arron Lilley in mind. But Finch can take such plans and tear them up, so sharp is his eye and so explosive his power. On this balmy Manchester evening, the Australian did exactly that. It was wonderful stuff.