Lancashire 160 for 2 (Davies 75*) beat Northamptonshire 157 for 7 by eight wickets
After the rare taste of defeat against Birmingham Bears, normal service resumed as Lancashire Lightning eased home with nine balls to spare on a night on which one sensed they would not have broken into a sweat even had the temperature been 10 degrees warmer.
With Alex Davies dominating with a masterful 75 at the top, finding the boundary 10 times but impressing also with some skilful shot placement backed up with superb running between the wickets, the absence of their leading scorer, Glenn Maxwell, through a minor hamstring injury was barely noticed.
Supported with vigour by Liam Livingstone at the start, with measured calm by Steven Croft through the middle overs and improvisation by Dane Vilas at the end, Davies underlined the depth of resources in the current Lightning squad that sees them with a five-point cushion at the top of the North Group, albeit from a match more than everyone else.
Adam Rossington (40) and Dwaine Pretorius (38) top scored as the Steelbacks posted 157 for 7 but even on a used pitch that gave the slow bowlers something to work with there was a never even a hint of a wobble from their opponents, who surely have one foot in the quarter-finals, not least with Maxwell set to return for Friday’s game against Birmingham.
Northamptonshire are not completely out of the picture, even in eighth place, but they will have to go some to qualify from here.
What had been shaping up as a pretty decent powerplay for the home side stalled rather dramatically after a bemused Richard Levi, aiming to chip into the legside field, was caught at third man off a leading edge in the fourth over. Adam Rossington worked a four off his hips in the same over to take the total to 37 for 1 after four but Richard Gleeson conceded only three in the fifth over and Saqib Mahmood just a single in the sixth, in which the Steelbacks lost another big wicket when Josh Cobb holed out to deep square leg without scoring.
Lancashire, who had won the toss and fancied there would be something in the conditions for their bowlers after a miserably wet day, then took the pace off and put the squeeze on some more before Rossington and Alex Wakely eased the pressure with a boundary each as Northamptonshire reached the halfway stage at 69 for 2.
On a slow pitch against disciplined bowling, the Steelbacks struggled to build any momentum, picking up only a couple of boundaries in the next five overs. A full swing of the bat from Wakely sent the ball over the rope at deep midwicket, but in the same over of an impressive spell of legspin by Livingstone came another setback as Rossington failed to clear the fielder at long-on.
Livingstone cleverly bowled Wakely in his next over to finish with a tidy two for 24 before Rob Keogh and Pretorius gave the innings some belated substance with a flurry of big blows, the latter walloping Matt Parkinson for consecutive legside sixes on his way to 38 off 22 balls before the legspinner thudded the next delivery into his pads.
The two had added 52 in five overs, most of them in a furious assault against Mahmood and Parkinson that accrued 37 in 12 deliveries. But James Faulkner tightened things up again with a superb final over that conceded only four and claimed two more wickets as he finished with 3 for 36.
Needing just under eight an over to overhaul the Steelbacks and claim their sixth win after three no-results in their first 10 matches, Lancashire could not have asked for a more emphatic statement of intent from their openers than Davies provided by smashing the first three balls of Ben Sanderson’s opening over to the rope.
Livingstone took up the gauntlet, needing little time to loosen up as lofted three of his first nine deliveries for six and though he was out looking for a fourth, well caught at deep mid-wicket, Lancashire were ahead of the game at 55 for 1 after the powerplay, even though the Steelbacks dragged the rate back a little in overs five and six.
The torrent of boundaries had dwindled to a trickle as Lightning reach the halfway point at 83 for 1 after some largely tidy work by Graeme White and Keogh but Davies and Croft were content with ones and twos with wickets in hand and the scoring ahead of the required rate.
Davies took advantage of a couple of loose deliveries from White to raise his boundary count to eight as he passed 50 in 38 balls before Faheem Ashraf checked Lancashire’s progress a little by yorking Croft in an excellent over that went for just two singles.
But Davies continued to play splendidly, rarely passing up the opportunity for an easy boundary that came his way all too often and never keen to settle for singles if a two was available as the target came down to 34 off the last five.
By now, the Steelbacks’ heads had dropped as Vilas warmed to the task and chopped Sanderson away twice through the offside before the game ended in a manner that aptly reflected the crumbling nature of the home side’s cricket as Vilas swatted away a Nathan Buck full toss which Wakely’s misfield at deep backward square turned into the winning boundary.