Lancashire 230 for 7 (Croft 99) beat Durham 229 (Lees 115, Maxwell 3-42) by three wickets
It comes as something of a jolt to see it is nearly a decade since Lancashire last reached the knockout stage of this competition. Time was when their place at such junkets could be all but laid at the start of the season. Yet if they maintain their present form - this was their fourth successive victory - the last Lord's final may be graced by a county who once made St John's Wood their weekend home.
But in a match that featured a fine hundred by Alex Lees and a no less excellent 99 by Steven Croft, there was the spiciest of ironies that Lancashire's win, which was sealed with just four balls to spare, was achieved largely thanks to two sixes by Graham Onions, the architect of so many great days in Durham's history.
With his side's success suddenly in the hazard - they had needed 21 off the final three overs - Onions capitalised on being dropped by Jack Burnham and thumped successive balls from Ben Raine over the rope on the leg side to bring his side within a handful of runs of their target. In the moment of victory Rob Jones, who had made a rather cool 33, punched the air and leapt about a lot. Onions quietly shook hands with his former team mates; he is the classiest of cricketers in so many ways and it still seems odd to see him in a Lancashire shirt.
Then again, it is a little strange to see Lees sporting anything other than the White Rose. Halifax-born, Lees joined Durham last August and his career-best 115 against Lancashire was a poignant reminder of a talent which utterly lost its way at Headingley. It was his fourth successive score above fifty and also the first limited-overs hundred scored by a Durham cricketer against these opponents since Dean Jones reached three figures in 1992.
Lees anchored his side's innings as firmly as the mighty merchantmen used to be secured when once they docked on the coaly Tyne. His caution was vital given many of his colleagues were rudderless skiffs by comparison. Only when Raine and Matty Potts joined him in partnerships of 54 and 32 for the seventh and ninth wickets did Durham seem likely to mount their clearly competitive total. More typical of the earlier stages of the innings was the dismissal of Michael Richardson, caught at the wicket for 2 when fencing at Onions; or that of Burnham, who holed out at deep midwicket when slog-sweeping Glenn Maxwell with his side on 77 for 5 in the 21st over.
As a result of such irresponsibility Lancashire's bowlers could go about their work safe in the knowledge they were unlikely to be butchered whereas Lees' range of shot was circumscribed by the game's situation. He reached his fifty off 77 balls having hit one four, a cover drive off Saqib Mahmood, and one six, a straight driven effort off James Anderson when Durham were only two down. By the time he was caught by Jones off Mahmood, Lees had belted two more sixes, both of them in Anderson's final over, and added five more fours but the majority of these were hit in the final ten overs when he had increasing licence to welly a few.
It all made a sharp contrast to the opening exchanges when Graham Clark had lost his middle stump to Mahmood and Scott Steel had been run out by a sharp piece of work by Keaton Jennings. Half an hour later Cameron Bancroft, perhaps discomfited by the pitch, played too early and gave Maxwell a gentle return catch. Had the Durham skipper been batting in the opposite crease we could have understood his dismissal even better. There was blackthorn blossom above the sightscreen at the Grove End and perhaps that distracted some batsmen as much as it delighted the rest of us. Either way, Durham's captain was out for 22 and their dressing room was hardly a place of jollity and merriment. By the end of the day it was glummer still.
Between innings, Durham's corporate hospitality moved into the fullest of swings. Devoted during most of the year to the cultivation of athletic skill, South North's five-lane indoor school was given over to satisfying the appetites of guests, many of whom were hardly lean but still looked formidably hungry. Geoff Miller entertained them and Sir Ian Botham offered his thoughts during the third or fourth luncheon.
The visitors' pursuit of 230 on a slowish pitch began badly when Haseeb Hameed appeared to call Jennings for a single only to see his partner run out by Burnham's direct hit off the fifth ball of the innings. Jennings, in case you have not met him, is comfortably the nicest man in the world. One imagines him waiting in his local high street each morning on the off chance an old lady will need escorting across the road to her luncheon club. So when one says he looked disgusted by what seemed to have been Hameed's call for one to backward point, you may get a rough idea of his strength of feeling. He managed to stalk slowly off the ground and was replaced by Croft who put bat to ball in an utterly uncomplicated fashion.
That, of course, is Croft's way and it is serving him well in the late summer of a career which seems to have begun just a couple of years ago. His scores in this competition before this match were 110, 97 and 37 not out and now he added 99 more runs before he was pinned on the back foot by Matt Salisbury with his side 41 away from victory. The important thing, though, was that each of his first three partners helped Croft add at least 45 runs to the total. One or two were no less culpable than their Durham counterparts; Dane Vilas holing out at deep square leg for 20 was a good example.
Croft meanwhile, cashed in on his good form like a thrifty old pro. He pulled Salisbury over square leg for six early in his innings and drove the same bowler for three successive fours in the next over when he overpitched. There were other boundaries but for the most part, Croft, like Lees, understood that this was a wicket which would cause grief to batsmen attempting big shots to blameless balls. Durham's seamers, especially Raine and Matty Potts, applied the pressure after Croft was out and some Lancastrians buckled under it. But Onions did not buckle. He hit two sixes instead. Nae bother, as they say in this wonderful, warm and generous part of the world.