Symonds ton takes Lancashire home
Lancashire 249 for 8 (Symonds 101) defeated Sussex 214 for 8 (Prior 59, Adams 48) by 35 runs
The sight of Andrew Flintoff giving Andrew Symonds a huge bear hug and high-fiveing him as a batsman walks back to the pavilion is not something you would have expected in this Ashes summer. For the past month they have been fiercely trying to outdo each other on the field. Today they were team-mates as Symonds made his Lancashire debut and turned in a match winning performance to send his new team into the semi-finals of the C&G Trophy with a 35-run win against Sussex.
A century, two wickets, four catches and a run-out is not a bad way to mark your first game and, for the 6000-strong crowd at Old Trafford, Symonds was immediately a Lancastrian. His hundred guided Lancashire to a defendable 249 for 8 - although they should have got more - before his two wickets removed Chris Adams and Murray Goodwin, Sussex's two key batsmen, and the three catches, all off Flintoff, sealed the match.
"It was pretty much the perfect day," said Symonds. "The pitch was the sort of surface where we said we just had to hang in there and try and get a wicket and it would be very hard for the new player coming in. We bowled some really tight overs through the middle and created pressure."
Although the final victory margin has a comfortable feel to it, as Chris Adams and Matt Prior were adding 95 for Sussex's second wicket another quarter-final defeat - following last season's loss to Yorkshire - was looming on the horizon. But Symonds was looming larger.
Mark Chilton, the Lancashire captain, had held his spinners back but they had an immediate effect when he tossed them the ball. Gary Keedy had Prior caught at deep midwicket (112 for 2) for a 58-ball 59 before Symonds showed that he was not content with only a century on his debut.
Adams was comprehensively bowled playing back (120 for 3) and each wicket pushed the asking rate higher. Murray Goodwin managed one towering six off Symonds but perished to a stunning return catch - similar to the one he took off Mohammed Ashraful in the one-day international at Old Trafford (160 for 4). As the pressure increased Flintoff helped himself - thanks to Symonds's safe hands - to three wickets as Sussex swung helplessly.
There was nothing Symonds couldn't do. When he came to the crease Lancashire's innings was in need of some stabilising following the loss of Stuart Law and Mal Loye. After Symonds and Marcus North (also making his Lancashire debut) had had a quick chat in the middle - as much to introduce themselves as to discuss any tactics - they employed their contrasting styles to build the significant stand of the innings.
North worked the gaps in the field, in a manner not dissimilar to the way his Western Australian team-mate Mike Hussey in the recent ODIs. He scampered between the wickets, while Symonds bludgeoned typically fierce boundaries. Their partnership of 118 in 22 overs steered Lancashire to 152 for 2 in the 31st over and, with Flintoff still to come, 280 was on the cards.
However Mushtaq Ahmed and Michael Yardy bowled 20 consecutive overs of spin and slowly they began to strangle the middle-order, especially when North swung across the line and was bowled by Mushtaq (152 for 3).
During the recent one-day internationals all the talk was of the Flintoff-Kevin Pietersen pairing firing together, but it never happened. When Flintoff joined Symonds the expectation was the same - but, alas, so was the outcome. when Flintoff was drawn down the pitch by Mushtaq during a superb spell of legspin (165 for 4).
Mushtaq also removed Mark Chilton (179 for 5), but Symonds was still in control and reached his century from 116 balls, diving full-length into the crease to make his ground.
While Prior and Adams were reproducing a Symonds-North style partnership, Sussex were working themselves into a position of dominance but, not for the first time this season, Symonds produced for his team when they need it most. Needless to say, the Man of the Match award was an easy decision.
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In Birmingham, Nick Knight led the charge with an unbeaten century as Warwickshire romped into the C & G semi-finals after crushing Kent by five wickets. Knight's unbeaten 112 allowed the home side to coast to their target of 260 with 23 balls to spare. Justin Kemp knocked over the top order with three wickets, but Knight held firm and was joined in his travails by Trevor Penney, who hit 50 not out. An opening stand of 120 between Rob Key and Andrew Hall gave Kent a strong platform, and Matthew Walker added 51 but their total of 259 wasn't enough on a decent Edgbaston wicket.
The fourth semi-final takes place on Saturday, with Yorkshire taking on Northamptonshire at Headingley.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo