Perfect Timing

Even by the standards of Muttiah Muralitharan’s celebrated career, it was quite a day. It started on a plane from Colombo which landed in Manchester at 7.15am on July 19 and continued with a quick drive down the M6. Murali comple ted his preparations with a couple of hours’ sleep in the Edgbaston dressing room.

But Lancashire’s determination to rush their Sri Lankan back from the recently-completed Test series against Bangladesh was handsomely vindicated by figures of four for 18, without which Warwickshire might well have romped home in the Twenty20 Cup match.

Neil Carter’s 25-ball half-century had taken the Bears to 73 for one after six overs when Murali was introduced, but his second ball induced the South African left-hander to loft a catch to long-off. Tim Ambrose fell in Murali’s second over but by the time Lancashire’s captain Mark Chilton turned again to his overseas star Warwickshire were back on course to appear in next month’s finals day, needing 54 from the last five overs.

Murali responded with the wicket of Tim Groenewald, to another cool boundary catch by Tom Smith, in an over that cost only two singles. When Alex Loudon fell in Murali’s last over he had four for 11, before Jonathan Trott took a little shine off his final figures with a six.

Trott’s intelligent 49 kept the Bears’ hopes flickering, with 19 needed from the last over, but his dismissal by Dominic Cork ensured Lancashire reached their third finals day in four years. Lancashire’s batting hero had been Gareth Cross, the 23-year-old second-team wicketkeeper who scored 62 from 35 balls.

He hit five sixes, including the last of four in the 18th over bowled by Jimmy Anyon. The first three had come from Steven Croft, who shared a fourth-wicket stand of 97 off 47 balls with Cross. But without Murali’s jet lag-defying magic, even that might not have been enough.