Lancashire earn Vitality Blast quarter-final place as Steven Croft inspires them to Worcestershire success
Lancashire Lightning secured a top-two spot – and a home quarter-final – in the Vitality Blast North Group with a 25-run victory over holders Worcestershire Rapids at New Road.
Steven Croft hit 94 as the Lightning totalled a formidable 218-5 after being put in to bat.
Saqib Mahmood then pressed home Lancashire’s advantage by removing Hamish Rutherford and Riki Wessels in his first two overs.
The game was effectively ended when Rapids captain Moeen Ali became the first of two wickets to fall in spinner Glenn Maxwell’s first over as the Australian took 3-23 from four overs.
Some typical hitting by Ross Whiteley – including his 100th T20 six for Worcestershire – kept the capacity 4,500 crowd entertained.
The Rapids opted to field first and struck an immediate blow with Alex Davies top-edging the first delivery of the game from Dillon Pennington to keeper Ben Cox.
Wayne Parnell shared the new ball and Croft helped his first delivery over the fine leg boundary for six.
Liam Livingstone collected four boundaries in Parnell’s second over and the Lightning half-century came up in 4.1 overs.
Croft raced to his half-century off just 24 balls with four sixes and four fours.
Livingstone (32) helped him add 83 in eight overs before lofting Ed Barnard straight to Whiteley at deep mid-wicket.
Maxwell flicked Pat Brown over the fine leg boundary for six but tried to repeat the shot from the next ball and was pouched by Pennington.
Captain Dane Vilas made a quickfire 23 before he cut hard at Barnard and picked out Rutherford at third man.
Daryl Mitchell bowled a tight mid-innings spell and his four overs cost only 26 runs.
But Croft continued to blaze away and hoisted Brown for two sixes in an over costing 22 runs.
He moved onto 94 before attempting a slog sweep in the final over from Moeen and was stumped.
Croft faced 55 balls and struck six sixes and six fours and his fifth-wicket partnership with James Faulkner (34) was worth 60 in five overs.
When the Rapids launched their reply they were immediately on the back foot as Rutherford (15) lobbed a Mahmood delivery to mid-on and Wessels (14) perished at deep mid-wicket.
Tom Fell was taken at long-on by Croft off Matt Parkinson and then Maxwell’s introduction to the attack paid double dividends.
Moeen (23) was bowled by his first delivery and then Parnell perished at long-on.
The Rapids lost half their side for 59 and required 151 from the final 10 overs.
Whiteley reached a 20-ball half-century which included 26 from an over by Richard Gleeson.
An entertaining stand of 86 in eight overs with Cox (28) ended when the keeper provided Maxwell with a third scalp with Davies this time holding onto the chance at deep mid-wicket.
Whiteley ended unbeaten on 89 from 40 balls as the Rapids closed on 193-7.