Lancashire dominate meeting of T20 experts
Lancashire 160 for 5 (Prince 72*, Brown 41, Smith 3-15) beat Hampshire 101 (Adams 53) by 42 runs D/L
No counties have better records in England's domestic T20 competition since its inception in 2003 than Hampshire and Lancashire. If this rain-disrupted second semi-final felt like the support act, records insisted it deserved a higher status. It was Lancashire who dominated it, defeating Hampshire with immense comfort to set up a clash with Birmingham in the final.
Capable with the bat, clinical with the ball, electric in the field. The attributes that have served Lancashire well all season were again to the fore. Lancashire's total of 160 for 9, made in 19 overs before a rain stoppage, was recalculated to 143 in 16 overs and Hampshire collapsed in the face of it, only two batsmen reaching double figures.
The top sides rarely rest. As Finals Day heralds the climax of another season, both Lancashire and Hampshire are already eyeing potential team strengthening ahead of next season. For once, Nottinghamshire, termed "somewhat parasitic" by Gloucestershire's director of cricket, John Bracewell, when they secured the transfer of Will Gidman, are the county under pressure, having to resist overtures from Lancashire for Harry Gurney and Hampshire for Andre Adams - a surprise interest in a player who will be 40 next season.
But much of Lancashire's batting resourcefulness came from a player who has expressed his intention to retire at the end of the season. Ashwell Prince, still athletic at 37, marshalled them from the uncertainty of 3 for 2, finding the leg side spaces and running aggressively, making an unbeaten 73 from 52 balls. Add a relatively successful Championship season and he might yet be persuaded to change his mind.
But it is Lancashire's bowling and fielding where their true strength lies. James Anderson's name had been sung by the Edgbaston crowd as he walked around the ground during the first semi-final, an accolade which drew him into a bashful smile, and he struck first as James Vince picked out cover in his first over.
But it was the names rarely chanted: the Smiths, Parrys and Crofts, more-than-decent professionals all, who followed up Anderson's success so efficiently. Michael Carberry hacked Croft's offspin to mid-on; Owais Shah, a T20 traveller these days, made room to cut Parry and was bowled as he played above one; and Will Smith, whose three wickets had sustained Hampshire with the ball, was stumped off Croft, a fortunate dismissal for Buttler who dropped the ball onto the stumps.
Jimmy Adams was left to fashion lonesome resistance, so exposed that Prince must have thought himself blessed for good company by comparison. He fell on 53, from 39 balls, failing to hit Anderson over deep midwicket. It was good to see Anderson, so important to England, relishing the chance to represent his county on Finals Day. The more fringe spectators see the England players care, the more they will care themselves.
For Lancashire to reach 160 in 19 overs was even more striking considering that Tom Smith, one of the mainstays of their batting line-up, and Buttler, England's bright young thing, managed one run between them.
A comeback by a national heroes also did not have a grand finale. Andrew Flintoff has gained much satisfaction in proving himself capable of a comeback in T20 but when Finals Day arrived he did not make the final XI, Kabir Ali preferred. Kabir has had a good season, but such are the sentences you never think you will write.
In the decade or so that Will Smith has labored to forge a county career, he would rarely have imagined himself as a spin-bowling threat on T20 Finals Day. At Notts and Durham, he was a part of a Championship-winning team and captaincy became a predictable adjunct for a bright cricketer. When it all turned sour at Durham, he looked to Hampshire to redeem his career, but he would have seen his spin as an undercard at best.
But Hampshire's ability to maximize their spin-bowling threat has routinely been at the heart of their T20 challenge and Smith maintained the trend. By the time his spell was completed, his season's tally was up to 20 wickets. Tom Smith was outdone by a first-ball floater; Keith Brown, whose uncultured strokemaking has sustained Lancashire all season, rallied with 41 from 28 balls before he slapped a wide ball from Smith onto his stumps. Then came the piece de resistance: Buttler. He fell lbw second ball, a single to his name, failing to reverse sweep a mid-pitch scuttle.
At that stage, few would have credited that Lancashire would win so easily, although with only 45 minutes to prepare for the final, they had a hard task ahead of them.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo