Steven Croft reached his maiden T20 century to power Lancashire Lightning to an imposing 204 for seven and set up a 35-run victory over Northamptonshire Steelbacks at Wantage Road.
Croft took an aggressive approach, blasting seven sixes and five fours in his 101 and shared a 146-run partnership in 12 overs with Daryl Mitchell (48). The pair had led a belligerent fightback after Ben Sanderson (2-29) had raised home fans’ hopes by removing England power hitters Jos Buttler (1) and Phil Salt (12) in his first two overs.
With Luke Wood (3-39) taking three wickets in an over in the powerplay, the hosts’ hopes rested once more on Australian big hitter Chris Lynn but when he fell for 21, it was left to all-rounders Tom Taylor (40) and AJ Tye (35) to entertain the crowds in a lively stand of 58 in five overs as the Steelbacks fell to their sixth defeat of the campaign.
The Steelbacks’ evening had started promisingly when they restricted Lightning to just 39 for three off the powerplay. Sanderson trapped Buttler leg before in his first over and removed Salt in his second thanks to keeper Lewis McManus who took a diving legside catch. Wells became the third wicket to fall when he holed out off Taylor with Willey taking a well-judged catch.
That though brought Mitchell and Croft together who were quick to go on the attack. Mitchell hit his first delivery for four and later lifted Tye high over extra cover.
Croft hit the first six of the game over long on off Sanderson and greeted Freddie Heldreich by sweeping him over square leg for two sixes and a four in his first over. He pulled Taylor over deep square for six and then hit the next two balls he faced, for two further maximums.
Justin Broad, playing his maiden first-team game for Northamptonshire after signing a contract earlier this week finally made the breakthrough in his only over, accounting for Mitchell who was caught by Lynn off an attempted scoop.
Croft fell soon after reaching his century thanks to Zaib who held onto a steepling chance at deep backward square off Tye, who also removed Tom Hartley in the final over.
Liam Livingstone (25) played some big shots, clubbing England teammate Willey down the ground for six before he was run out off the final ball of the innings.
Northamptonshire’s new opening pair Ricardo Vasconelos (15) and Emilio Gay (13) took 22 off the first two overs. Gay hit three consecutive boundaries off Jack Blatherwick before he was caught off the leading edge off the first ball of a highly eventful over from Wood.
Vasconcelos pulled a free hit from Wood for six but departed to the next delivery when the bowler took a sharp low return catch. Wood then accounted for Willey next ball, caught by Salt, before Zaib safely survived the hattrick ball.
Zaib hit Blatherwick into the top of the Turner Stand but was adjudged to be caught behind by Buttler off the next delivery to leave the Steelbacks in real trouble on 47 for four.
Broad (14) looked unfazed on the big occasion, reverse sweeping Hartley for four and crunching Wells through extra cover. Wells soon had his man though when Broad was caught by Mitchell at long-off.
Lynn needed to play another powerhouse innings for the Steelbacks and had a stroke of luck when he was put down on the boundary off Hartley with the ball running away for four. But Hartley struck soon afterwards when he had Lynn caught off a top edge attempting to hook. Three overs later Wells picked up his second wicket when he bowled Lewis McManus (11).
Tye and Taylor were determined to go down all guns blazing and took on the bowlers to give the home fans something to cheer. Tye dispatched Livingstone over the ropes and hit Blatherwick for an even bigger six over deep square leg. The fun ended when the Australian tried to uppercut Mitchell over the infield on one leg and was caught by Blatherwick for 35 (two sixes, three fours). Mitchell then had Sanderson caught and bowled two balls later.
Taylor continued to blaze away, ending the game with an enormous six over deep midwicket to finish unbeaten on 40 (one six, two fours).