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3rd Quarter-Final (D/N), Manchester, July 08, 2022, Vitality Blast
(15.4/20 ov, T:162) 162/3

Lancashire won by 7 wickets (with 26 balls remaining)

Player Of The Match
76* (48)
Cricinfo's MVP
87.72 ptsImpact List

Steven Croft, Dane Vilas prove too strong as Lancashire surge past Essex

Seven-wicket win seals record ninth Finals Day berth as 161 target is hunted down

Paul Edwards
Paul Edwards
Steven Croft is congratulated by Lanky the Giraffe after securing Lancashire's Finals Day berth, Lancashire vs Essex, Vitality Blast, Old Trafford, July 8, 2022

Steven Croft is congratulated by Lanky the Giraffe after securing Lancashire's Finals Day berth  •  Getty Images

Lancashire 162 for 3 (Croft 76*, Vilas 51) beat Essex 161 for 5 (Pepper 36) by seven wickets
I suppose it had to happen sometime. Perhaps it was written in the stars above Todmorden that it would be this year of all years. In little more than six days' time Lancashire will play Yorkshire in the semi-final of the Vitality Blast at Edgbaston. They will do so partly thanks to the efforts of two cricketers who are divided by a county border yet share more than they might acknowledge.
On Wednesday Jordan Thompson bellowed defiance and took Yorkshire to a victory over Surrey that made feeding the five thousand look no more miraculous than a trip to Sainsbury's. Just two evenings later, Steven Croft strode to the wicket at Emirates Old Trafford when his side were 6 for 1 and left the great ground an hour or so later after his 48-ball 76 not out had helped Lancashire thrash Essex by seven wickets, the victory being achieved with 26 balls to spare.
Croft is in some of the form of his life, a point Lancashire should note given that the 37-year-old is in the final year of his current contract. With Lancashire needing 162 to reach Finals Day - it looked six to five and pick 'em at half-time - Croft drove Dan Sams for a thunderous six and then top-edged him for an altogether jammier one. It set the tone for the rest of an innings in which the Essex bowlers got no rest. Indeed, they looked back fondly to the sixth ball of Lancashire's reply when Sam Cook got a cuticle to a fierce drive from Salt and ran out Keaton Jennings for nought. That was as good as it got for Simon Harmer's team, a fact the visiting skipper acknowledged later.
Salt and Croft put on 73 runs in less than eight overs. Sams conceded 19 runs in his first over, Cook 14 in his second. Lancashire had 61 runs on the board when the Powerplay ended and not even the Essex spinners, Harmer and Matt Critchley could staunch the flow. True, Salt fell for 27 to a superb relay catch when a leaping Michael Pepper threw the ball back infield to Ben Allison but that only brought Dane Vilas to the wicket and he seemed in an even more violent mood than Croft, with whom he added 78.
Lancashire's skipper struggled for runs in the Blast last year but his return to form in 2022 has been clear. This evening it was plain in his 22-ball fifty and epitomised by the slog-swept six that went through the temporary wall separating the outfield from Lancashire's latest building site. Vilas fell to Harmer for 51 when his side needed five to win but it was a footnote at best. Whereas Yorkshire needed to dig very deep to get past a Surrey side who were thinking about Edgbaston hotels, Lancashire motored home, Havana cigar in hand.
But let us pause a moment and consider the poor bloody bowlers. Firstly, we should note that Richard Gleeson, Liam Livingstone and Matt Parkinson are all on white-ball duty for England and were unavailable for this game, although Salt was made available for the quarter-final this morning. Given the absence of this trio, the efforts of the seamers, Tom Bailey, Luke Wood and Danny Lamb, each of whom conceded 28 runs in their four overs, were particularly valuable. Lamb also had Critchley caught by Luke Wells at cover for 12 and Wood removed Adam Rossington and Dan Lawrence, both courtesy of catches by Tim David. The second of them, a two-handed job above his head at mid-on to a bullet of a drive, delighted the crowd and astonished the batter.
Essex ended the Powerplay with 53 runs on the board and continued to score at eight runs an over throughout the innings. Yet their total seemed respectable on a used pitch that we thought might suit Harmer and Critchley. It did not turn out that way partly because Croft is enjoying his best-ever season in T20 cricket and now needs just 46 runs to beat Lancashire's short-form record, which is held by Tom Smith, the Yorkshire coach. The veteran's batting will surely have delighted Cartmel Cricket Club's Barmy Army, who draped their banner over the balcony outside one of the rooms at the Hilton Garden Hotel. The catering at Emirates Old Trafford might not match that at L'Enclume, the restaurant in their Cumbrian village that boasts three Michelin stars, but they will have had a great night, too.
And if a word of caution is needed, Lancashire might note that while they have reached their ninth Finals Day, a record matched only by their fellow semi-finalists Hampshire, they now need to improve their poor record on the big day in Birmingham, where they have prevailed in just three semi-finals and won the trophy only once. Steven Croft of Lancashire will note such things but he will probably observe that trends are meant to be bucked just as age is only a number. It is difficult not to be delighted for him, although Jordan Thompson of Yorkshire might manage it.

Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications

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