|burst of vitality quarter-final, Emirates Old Trafford|
|Essex Eagles 161-5 (20 overs): Pepper 36, Walter 34*; Wood 2-28|
|Lancashire Lightning 162-3 (15.4 overs): Croft 76*, Vilas 51, Salt 27|
|Lancashire beat Essex by seven wickets|
Lancashire booked their place alongside Yorkshire and Hampshire on the day of the T20 Blast finals as they cruised through Essex by seven wickets at Old Trafford.
Veteran Steven Croft beat a stunning unbeaten 76, aided by skipper Dane Vilas (51 from 23 balls) and England’s Phil Salt (27), as they won easily.
Essex, who had beaten Lancashire twice in this last-eight leg, went 161-5.
But this was the third time the 2015 winners got lucky matched Hampshire by reaching a joint record ninth final day.
After such an exhilarating night in front of a nearly sold-out Old Trafford, Lancashire will now return to Birmingham to face a semi-final encounter with Heroes of the Last Yorkshire Oval Ball in eight days – for what will be the first game of Finals Day Roses.
Hampshire will meet the winners of Quarter-final Somerset-Derbyshire on Saturday in the first half.
Essex, the 2019 winners, started well through openers Adam Rossington and former Lancashire junior Matt Critchley, topping 40 in the first four overs.
But the two were gone in the space of six balls, Rossington for 25 on a fine boundary hold by Tim David, and Critchley for 12, then Dan Lawrence, on 15, failed to clear David halfway , to bring a second wicket for Luc Bois.
Essex’s top Twenty20 scorer this season, Michael Pepper, responded with two sixes and two fours in his 36 from 28 balls. But Essex were further disrupted by two sharp stumps from Salt, who had been released from the England T20 squad for the night.
He was the only of five English whiteball players from Lancashire to be released – with Jos Buttler, Liam Livingstone, Matt Parkinson and Richard Gleeson all missing the game.
Salt first got rid of Pepper from Tom Hartley, then 13 balls later the Lancashire wicket-keeper repeated the trick of their other spinner, Luke Wells, to dismiss a scrambled Tom Westley.
An unbroken 49-from-31 stand from Paul Walter (34) and Dan Sams (25) at least gave Essex something substantial to play for – and Lancashire then got off to a nightmarish start in response.
Keaton Jennings was knocked out on the non-attacking side, without facing a ball, after Essex bowler Sam Cook was judged for landing a crucial fingertip on Salt’s right hand drive.
But Salt and Croft settled things with a superb 73-for-47 stand.
It ended in controversy when Salt was knocked out, with the TV umpire ruling that Pepper’s heel did not hit the mid-wicket boundary foam as he tipped acrobatically and returned the ball mid-jump for Ben Allison to claim a takeover. .
But that didn’t affect their momentum as a swashbuckling Vilas came in to increase the scoring rate.
Together he and fellow 37-year-old Croft went 78-for-39 to put Essex away in the game.
Vilas hit three sixes and was looking for a fourth to match Croft when he beat visiting skipper Simon Harmer with five still needed.
By then the game was almost won and David came to finish the job with 26 balls in reserve.
Steven Croft, Lancashire half-centurion:
“Luckily it wasn’t too close. It was a great team performance. We played really well and kept them 15-20 under par.
“We also hit really well. Salty and I took it, and then Dane came in and played a blinding shot. He took the pressure off me and we took the game away from them.
“We had a lot of exciting games here, but I have to thank the guys – it was a clinical performance. To have two wins before the day of the final is the kind of momentum we want.
“I didn’t know it would be Yorkshire. But it should be a great game. We have a good historical record against them.”
Essex T20 captain Simon Harmer told BBC Essex:
“Hats off to Steven Croft and Dane Vilas. They took the game away from us.
“You don’t want to split it too much but we were probably short 20 or 30. We thought 161 might be about even but it just wasn’t enough. We had some guys who started but we needed someone to put their hand up and play those big innings.”
“It’s always been a good campaign. To have Adam Rossington and Matt Critchley in the Essex shirts is hugely exciting. And to have guys like Michael Pepper and Paul Walter making real contributions should give us a lot of optimism for the future. .
“There are still two competitions to go. It’s disappointing not to be in the final, but we have to move on quickly.”
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