Worcestershire 169 for 6 (Cox 55* Ali 41) beat Lancashire 149 (Jennings 51*, Brown 4-21) by 20 runs
Worcestershire's first appearance at Finals Day is not to be a brief encounter. Despite posting what seemed to be no more than a par total of 169 in their semi-final against Lancashire Lightning, Moeen Ali's bowlers sucked the life of their opponents' reply and ended the first semi-final deserved victors by 20 runs. Pat Brown, the tournament's leading wicket-taker in his first full season, finished with a late flurry of wickets to return 4 for 21 in an extraordinary summer.
Lancashire meanwhile are clearly not morning people. In seven appearances at Finals Day they have now lost the first semi-final on four occasions. Once again, the big occasion is the big disappointment. But perhaps it was to be expected. Most people fancied Lancashire, which is normally enough to condemn them to an early afternoon trip back up the M6. And so it is again.
Worcestershire's innings was an odd affair, a fact reflected in its two Manhattan two skyscrapers. Moeen Ali levied 23 runs off Liam Livingstone's only over, the third of the innings and one in which Lancashire's captain lost his line. But having reached 37 without loss halfway through the Powerplay, Worcestershire managed only 96 more runs off the next 15 overs and lost six wickets in the process. Their travails were most grisly when they lost three wickets off successive balls in what was something of a mongrel hat-trick Ali was caught by James Faulkner at long off for 41, Brett D'Oliveira was run out by Toby Lester without facing, and Tom Fell was stumped by Jos Buttler for 23 to leave Worcestershire on 70 for four after 8.1 overs
The batsmen's struggle was caused by Lancashire's leg-spinners, Matt Parkinson and Zahir Khan, who conceded 47 runs off their eight overs and took three wickets. Zahir claimed the vital wicket when the Worcestershire skipper miscued a big hit. But Parkinson was a comparable irritant to the batsmen, removing both Tom Fell and Ross Whiteley while conceding as many runs in four overs as Livingstone had leaked in just the one.
The innings continued in a similar vein until the penultimate over when Ben Cox hit three sixes into the Hollies Stand off Toby Lester, who having conceded 26 runs off his first three overs now went for 27 in his fourth. Cox ended the innings with 55 not out, secure in the knowledge that he had given his side a total at which they could bowl. His unbroken stand of 72 with Barnard, who was unbeaten on 28, was to prove vital to Worcestershire's fortunes.
Lancashire's innings did not enjoy the spectacular overs enjoyed by the Rapids and that was probably integral to its failure. None of Livingstone's batsmen could match the decisive innings played by Ali and Cox and all of them found it difficult to cope with the off-spin of Ali, who bowled Jos Buttler off the bottom edge for 12 and finished with 2 for 16 from four overs which reeked of international class. Neither could Livingstone do more than make 30 off 18 balls before he thick-edged Ed Barnard to D'Oliveira at short third-man.
Keaton Jennings tried to anchor the last half of the innings but found no one who could help him score at a rate which climbed steadily. Needing 44 off the final four overs, Lightning lost three wickets in the 19th bowled by Brown, who ended the innings with figures of 4 for 21. But Ali's accuracy, Barnard's two run-outs and the coolness of Worcestershire's fielders were just as vital to this fine result for a county which once again exceeded some expectations. Their players now have a final to which they can look forward.
As for Lancashire, here they are again. Losing the first semi-final of the Blast is like leaving a party before it's got going: the music's tedious, the decent booze hasn't arrived and nobody's made an exhibition of themselves. Yet here you are, out on the street and God has banished all taxis from the face of the earth.
Their supporters, meanwhile, are all revved up with no place to go. Except back to Lancashire. With what will they console themselves? Maybe there's live football on the telly. There usually is. Or come to think of it, they could watch the final of the Blast. Actually, on second thoughts, maybe not.