Stunning du Plessis takes Lancashire through
Lancashire 262 for 6 (du Plessis 113*) beat Essex 195 (Flower 44, Keedy 4-45) by 67 runs
Francois du Plessis played one of the most important innings of his Lancashire career, an unbeaten 113 from 75 balls that led them into a Friends Provident semi-final at the expense of defending champions Essex. A thrilling display of late hitting by du Plessis, who struck seven sixes, lifted Lancashire to 262 after a difficult start and the team then backed him up with an impressive performance in the field to win by 67 runs.
du Plessis really began to open up when joined by Luke Sutton and the pair added 74 for the sixth wicket with Sutton's contribution 17. He tore into the Essex attack and cleared the ropes on regular occasions as he raced to three figures off 71 deliveries with his second fifty needing just 19 balls. Reputation mattered for little as Danish Kaneria was given some rough treatment while Graham Napier also took some punishment in the closing overs. Lancashire hit 121 off the last 12 overs.
All Lancashire's bowlers chipped in, with Gary Keedy cleaning up the lower order to finish with four, but Sajid Mahmood was particularly impressive with the key wickets of England Twenty20 pair James Foster and Napier to take out Essex's last realistic chance of retaining their title.
However, it had been Essex, who beat Lancashire twice in the qualifying stage, that took the early honours. Their seamers kept a tight leash on Lancashire's top order. David Masters was outstanding, completing his 10 overs for just 14 runs plus the wickets of Paul Horton and later Steven Croft. After Horton fell for a duck, Tom Smith was caught behind of Chris Wright as Lancashire struggled for momentum.
The run rate was still below four-an-over when Ashwell Prince fell to Grant Flower in the 27th over, who struck again to remove Mark Chilton to leave Lancashire on 120 for 4. It was surprising that Flower only bowled three overs despite claiming two key wickets. Then du Plessis began to revive the innings with his single-handed display. Due to a tightening of Kolpak legislation, du Plessis isn't assured of his county future because he hasn't played international cricket, but after this display Lancashire will be trying even harder to keep him.
The home side carried their impetus from the end of the innings into the field and made life tough for Essex. Alastair Cook fell early, well caught by Mahmood at mid-on, and was soon followed by Varun Chopra who was run out by none other than du Plessis.
The batsmen struggled to find the boundary against a disciplined attack as the asking rate rose. Matt Walker became Keedy's first wicket and between Mahmood's key strikes, Flower was caught at midwicket off Smith after trying his best to hold the chase together with 44 off 57 balls. Keedy benefited from batsmen who needed swing and closed out the match when Ryan ten Doeschate was caught by Horton.
The semi-final draw has given Lancashire a home match against Hampshire which means that, in theory, it could pit Andrew Flintoff against Kevin Pietersen. In reality that is highly unlikely as the semi-finals take place four days before the first Ashes Test and two days after an England XI play Warwickshire. However, it also means a return to Old Trafford for Dominic Cork and that alone will be worth watching.