Lancashire Lightning 151 for 6 (Maxwell 73) beat Notts Outlaws 148 for 9 (Parkinson 3-22) by 3 runs
Until this extraordinary evening nothing was more likely to deflate the sails of the good ship Lancashire than the prospect of playing Notts Outlaws in T20 cricket. The distance between Trent Bridge and Emirates Old Trafford means that the counties had only met nine times since 2011 and the best Lancashire had managed in a grisly sequence was two abandonments.
So it is probably a measure of the quality of Lancashire's T20 cricket at the moment that they bucked that trend with a three-run victory which was only sealed when visiting skipper Dan Christian managed only two runs off James Faulkner's penultimate ball of the match. Yet even that late drama hardly begins to tell the tale of a remarkable game in which Lancashire won the toss but had managed only 45 runs for the loss of four wickets after ten overs.
Glenn Maxwell, who was Man of the Match by a mile, and Dane Vilas' fifth-wicket partnership of 107 in 66 balls allowed Lancashire to post a respectable 151 and it was then left to the home side's high quality attack to restrict Nottinghamshire's batsmen. They accomplished that task so effectively that Notts needed 32 off their last two overs but Christian got inside the line of Saqib Mahmood's misdirected deliveries and clipped three sixes over the short leg-side boundary before Faulkner defended 12 off the last over during which Maxwell took his fourth catch of the match. That is a record for a Lancashire outfielder in T20 cricket but the landmark was almost lost amid the good-humoured chaos of the final deliveries and the memory of Maxwell's 46-ball 73 in the first innings. And a few minutes after the victory was completed the rain began to belt down at Old Trafford. Undefeated after seven games and with 12 points already secured, it seemed for a daft moment as if even Manchester's weather was on Lancashire's side.
Such a feeling was understandable when one recalled that Lancashire had lost two wickets in the first six balls of their innings and were 35 for 4 after 8.2 overs with even respectable defeat appearing a distant goal. Alex Davies and Steven Croft were bowled in Luke Wood's first over and Liam Livingstone and Keaton Jennings perished too as the home side sought to accelerate without first stabilising the innings. Wood is one of those bowlers who displays far more gusto in celebrating a wicket than he does in his run-up. The need for discipline in the latter outweighed by immediate exuberance in the former probably explains the division of energy. Livingstone was bowled by Imad Wasim for 3 when imitating the chap who was too fond of ice-cream and went for one scoop too many. When Jennings was stumped off Samit Patel Lancashire were floundering. At which point Maxwell and Vilas changed the game.
As much as anything else the partnership provided yet more evidence of the fitness of most current cricketers. Vilas hit only four fours in his 46 and though Maxwell clubbed a couple of extraordinary sixes on top of seven other boundaries in his 73, that still leaves around 50 sprinted runs in the pair's 11-over stand of 107, which set a fifth-wicket record for Lancashire in T20s. And of course there were the strokes that still bring gasps of astonishment from the crowd. Most of these were played by Maxwell, who can rarely have batted better in short-form cricket; the reverse sweep for four and reverse ramp for six off Harry Gurney were as spectacular as anything we saw on an evening of extroversions on and off the field. Both batsmen fell in Gurney's last over but by that point the crowd knew they had a game on their hands.
Notts Outlaws' innings began quite as dismally as their opponents had when Joe Clarke was pinned in front of his stumps by Richard Gleeson's first ball. Ben Duckett followed three overs later when he clubbed a full toss from the same bowler to Maxwell at mid-on and the remainder of the innings saw a succession of Notts batsmen begin well before falling to Matt Parkinson and Livingstone, who took 5 for 54 between them. The most culpable cricketer was probably Patel, who made a fine 34 before smacking Parkinson straight to Davies at extra-cover, this in the over after Tom Moores had been caught at long on by Maxwell off Livingstone. Until Christian tucked into Mahmood no other Notts batsman had the measure of the task and they were worn down by some superb Lancashire fielding.
So Vilas' team already look well placed to reach the quarter-finals of a Blast which has already served up some wonderful short-form cricket and suddenly appears a format we should preserve rather than shove to an earlier slot in the 2020 season.
But there is a certain convoluted irony about Lancashire's fine start to their Blast campaign. Players regularly talk about the advantages of a team finishing in the top two in their group and thereby earning a home quarter-final in the Blast. Yet for all their success in reaching seven Finals Days, Lancashire have only played three of their 11 quarter-finals at Old Trafford, a tally which includes the rain-wrecked 2009 encounter against Somerset which had to be settled by a bowl out.
Winning 12 points out of their first 14 suggests Lancashire are well-placed for a home quarter-final this year but the four dates set aside for those games clash with the Ashes Test at Old Trafford. ESPNcricinfo understands discussions are already taking place with the ECB about the club's possible options. Yet as the rain tippled down at Old Trafford this Saturday evening one could forgive Lancashire and their supporters believing that at the moment they can beat anyone anywhere.