|Vitality Blast 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 at T20 Blast Finals Day as they cruised past Essex by seven wickets at Old Trafford.
Veteran Steven Croft clubbed a superb unbeaten 76, aided by skipper Dane Vilas (51 off 23 balls) and England’s Phil Salt (27), as they won with ease.
Essex, who had twice beaten Lancashire at this last-eight stage, made 161-5.
But it was third time lucky as the 2015 winners matched Hampshire by reaching a joint record ninth Finals Day.
After such an exhilarating night in front of a near-sellout Old Trafford, Lancashire will now head back to Birmingham to face a semi-final meeting with Oval last-ball heroes Yorkshire in eight days’ time – for what will be the first Finals Day Roses match.
Hampshire will meet the winners of Saturday’s Somerset-Derbyshire quarter-final in the first semi.
Essex, the 2019 winners, started well through openers Adam Rossington and former Lancashire junior Matt Critchley, going past 40 inside the first four overs.
But both departed in the space of six balls, Rossington for 25 to a fine boundary catch by Tim David, and Critchley for 12, then Dan Lawrence, on 15, just failed to clear David at mid-on, to bring a second wicket for Luke Wood.
Essex’s top Twenty20 scorer this season, Michael Pepper, responded with two sixes and two fours in his 36 off 28 balls. But Essex were further disrupted by two sharp stumpings from Salt, who had been freed from the England T20 squad for the night.
He was the only one of Lancashire’s five England white-ball players released – with Jos Buttler, Liam Livingstone, Matt Parkinson and Richard Gleeson all missing the game.
Salt first got rid of Pepper off Tom Hartley, then 13 balls later the Lancashire wicketkeeper repeated the trick off their other spinner, Luke Wells, to dismiss a bamboozled Tom Westley.
A neat unbroken stand of 49 off 31 balls from Paul Walter (34) and Dan Sams (25) at least gave Essex something substantial to bowl at – and Lancashire then got off to a nightmare start in reply.
Keaton Jennings was run out at the non-striker’s end, without facing a ball, after Essex bowler Sam Cook was adjudged to have got a crucial fingertip to Salt’s straight drive.
But Salt and Croft settled things down with a superb stand of 73 off 47 balls.
It ended in some controversy when Salt was given out, with the TV umpire ruling that Pepper’s heel had not touched the boundary foam at mid-wicket as he toppled over acrobatically and threw the ball back mid-leap for Ben Allison to claim a relay catch.
But it did not affect their momentum as a swashbuckling Vilas came in to actually up the scoring rate.
Together, he and fellow 37-year-old Croft put on 78 off 39 balls to take the game away from Essex.
Vilas hit three sixes and was looking for a fourth to match Croft when he holed out off visiting skipper Simon Harmer with five still needed.
By then the game was all but won and David came in to complete the job with 26 balls to spare.
Lancashire half-centurion Steven Croft:
“Thankfully it wasn’t too much of a close one. It was a great team performance. We bowled really well and kept them 15-20 runs under par.
“We also batted really well. Salty and myself took it on, and Dane then came in and played a blinding knock. He took the pressure off me and we took the game away from them.
“We’ve had a lot of thrilling games here, but credit to the lads – it was a clinical performance. To have two wins going into Finals Day is the sort of momentum we want.
“I didn’t know it will 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 pick it apart too much but we were probably 20 or 30 short. We thought 161 might be about par but it just wasn’t enough. We had guys who got starts but we needed someone to put their hand up and play that big innings.”
“It’s still been a good campaign. To have Adam Rossington and Matt Critchley in Essex shirts is hugely exciting. And to have guys like Michael Pepper and Paul Walter make real contributions should give us lots of optimism moving forward.
“There are still two competitions to go for. It’s disappointing to not make Finals Day but we have to move on quickly.”