Hardman's Thoughts

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A sweet victory 12 years in the making

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It really wasn’t the best T20 Finals Day. There was little in the way of excitement, as teams batting first crumbled in both of the semi-finals. The final was a little better, with Lancashire and Northamptonshire producing a tight, swinging in momentum, affair that Lancashire finally won with some excellent death over bowling. The triumph is Lancashire’s first in the T20 format and their first one-day trophy since 1999. For reasons I’ll explore below, it is sweet in the extreme.

In reality, we should have won this trophy last year. Back then we had Andrew Flintoff, James Anderson, Usman Khawaja, Tom Smith and Paul Horton. Horton isn’t considered good enough for T20 anymore (indeed, his contract isn’t being renewed for next year), Smith has been injured, Flintoff retired, Anderson wasn’t made available by England and Khawaja was rejected in favour of James Faulkner. While the last one was a move made to strengthen our side, on paper we were weaker this year. Last year it was our fifth Finals Day appearance and with Buttler and Brown together we looked likely to chase the 182 runs we needed to get. What followed was a traditional Lancashire collapse, and despite late heroics from Freddy Flintoff, we failed to get over the line.

This year, we shouldn’t have even been at finals day. Knowing we had a weaker squad than last year, our coach Ashley Giles has been playing down our chances from the commencement of the competition. We lost two of our first three matches and our prospects of winning the thing looked slim! After 13 of the 14 group stage matches we were sitting in fourth place in the group, the final qualification spot and a point ahead of Nottinghamshire in fifth. We knew that to guarantee qualification we needed to beat an already qualified Worcestershire and if we didn’t then we would have to hope that already out Leicestershire could somehow halt Notts’ momentum. I honestly believe that if those matches had happened, it would have been Notts travelling to Kent for the quarterfinal and not Lancashire. Luckily for us, it rained all over the country and we stayed that one point ahead.

We almost made a mess of a routine quarterfinal victory. At one stage, bowling first, we had Kent 7 wickets down for only 87 runs. They recovered to post 142 and when we were 138 for the loss of just 4 wickets with 5 balls left the result seemed a foregone conclusion. Cue an over so bizarre; it could only possibly include Lancashire! Buttler went, and then Croft went before Faulkner couldn’t get bat on ball and conceded a dot. 5 to win from 5 balls had become 5 to win from 2. Faulkner and Lilley scrambled a couple of two’s and the scores were level. We progressed on virtue of not being bowled out. Fewest wickets lost, quite possibly the greatest rule in the history of cricket (until it works against us!).

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Going into Finals Day turned out to be more traumatic than usual when our most reliable bowler over all formats this season broke his hand. With Kyle Jarvis out, James Anderson unavailable and Tom Bailey out of form in white ball cricket it was going to be fascinating to see what side we played. Ignoring Luke Procter and Jordan Clark, Giles and Croft decided to give a debut to 21-year-old Gavin Griffiths and throw in 23-year-old George Edwards. That was a bold decision, which sums up Lancashire and the coaching staff’s confidence in our current crop of youngsters.

Losing the toss in the semi-final but being asked to bowl first worked in our favour. Steven Croft would have batted, however after seeing his bowlers skittle Hampshire for 115 I’m sure he’s grateful he never had the chance to suggest such an idea. Stephen Parry, so long a stalwart with a white ball for Lancashire, impressed taking 3 wickets for only 21 runs from his four overs. His spin twin this summer, Arron Lilley, was also tidy – contributing 2 wickets and only conceding a measly 11 runs from a full compliment of overs.

If you want a reason why Lancashire have won the T20 this year then look no further than those two. On many occasions, their tight accurate middle over bowling has restricted sides from making big totals and they’ve chipped in with more than enough wickets. Parry’s slow orthodox spin compliments Lilley’s quicker off-spin and the two of them will be deadly for years. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Lilley, who for the record can bat and is an excellent fielder, represent England in the years to come.

The impressive thing about the semi-final was that our pacers bowled well too. Faulkner, another massive part of this success, took 3 wickets, Edwards 2 (at only 5.33 runs per over) and Griffiths bowled well on debut, and indeed his first over was a maiden. Chasing a small total is never easy but an assured 40 not out from Karl Brown and a cameo from James Faulkner meant we cruised home with more than an over to spare. Looking back to his post match interview, the signs were there that this was our year. Croft said the side hadn’t clicked yet as a unit and with hindsight, he was right.

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The most likable aspect of this Lancashire side is the willingness in which they use young cricketers. In the past year we’ve seen Chapple’s work load dramatically reduced, Paul Horton get released, Tom Smith be injured and Kyle Hogg retire. Rather than miss 4 key reasons for our success in recent history, Giles has managed to slot in youngsters such as Lilley, Clark, Bailey, Griffiths, Edwards, Liam Livingstone, Alex Davies and Haseeb Hameed all to great success. If we add promotion to this T20 triumph, it will be as much to those guys as it is to Ashwell Prince, Faulkner, Alviro Petersen etc.

Inevitably, youngsters will blow hot and cold. When they blow cold it can be frustrating, when hot it can be exciting. In the final, on the biggest stage of their lives Alex Davies and Gavin Griffiths, two 21 year olds, stepped up and won the trophy for Lancashire. The Red Rose clicked, as Davies and Prince set off at a brisk pace, both getting 40’s and setting a nice platform. Davies’ 47 was a particularly beautiful flowing knock, which would eventually land him man of the match. A brisk 20 run cameo from Aaron Lilley at the end to push us over the 160 mark and produce a target we could defend with confidence, 166, rescued a mini collapse in the middle.

Northants were never cruising to the target, however the middle overs didn’t work like they usually did for Lancashire and we found ourselves defending 42 off the last four overs. That is achievable for both sides, especially with Cobb and Afridi getting into their stride. It got worse when Faulkner halfway through a good over dropped Afridi, almost certainly dislocating his finger in the process. He finished the over and would be fit to bowl his last however we needed someone to bowl the 18th and 20th overs. Edwards had been expensive, Lilley as a spinner was too much of a risk.

Step forward Gavin Griffiths. His figures? 1 over, 0 wickets, 9 runs. His experience? 1 T20 match, played earlier that day. His task? Bowl to one of the best one-day players of the last decade, and try and take your side over the line for the first time since the last millennium. No pressure then! He started cramping, the commentators suggested due to stress, and saw Cobb dropped in the outfield by Davies. Did that faze him? No, as the very next ball he had Afridi caught on the boundary ropes and in truth, that was that. A brilliant 19th over from Faulkner (who deserves a lot of praise for bowling on) and an exceptional final one from Griffiths (defending 21 should be easy but so much can go wrong quickly in cricket) saw Lancashire to the title that has evaded them so much.

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The beauty of county cricket is that teams don’t tend to dominate. With 18 teams more or less evenly matched, winning a trophy in any format is a significant achievement. Lancashire have always been consistent in the T20 competition – reach the knockout stages and then mess up in them. No other side has qualified from the group more than us, so this is a victory 12 years in the making and more than deserved. This side certainly won’t dominate, although I’ll be surprised if this is the only trophy they win. Whatever happens, they will always have this sweet victory.

This is a Lancashire side still propped up by the Stevphen’s Croft and Parry, Ashwell Prince and Karl Brown however we can now add the likes of Alex Davies, Aaron Lilley and Gavin Griffiths to the mix of players to depend on. The competition for places is rife and there therefore isn’t a weak spot throughout the 11. Faulkner, Prince and Buttler, by their standards, had poor days at this year’s Finals Day but surprisingly that didn’t matter. The rest of Lancashire proved we are far from a 3-man team and more than that, we are a young, exciting side.

Going into this year, I was sad that we couldn’t win it with Flintoff, Hogg, Smith or, as it turned out, Horton and Chapple – players who have given their all for Lancashire over the years. But now, would I say it’s sweeter to win with youngsters rather than the old guard? A hundred times yes. A win for the old guard would have been the final goodbye. A win for this side could be the start of something special. And, if I have read the character of the man correctly, I’m convinced Glenn Chapple will be thinking exactly that.

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Author: GHardman42

Mancunian. Main passions are Sport and Mus(e)ic. Huge Everton, AM, Lancashire, JB and England fan! I play tennis like Dolgopolov (except nowhere near as good). Josh has said "You just don't know what will come next"

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