Steven Croft has set his Lancashire Lightning team the target of returning to the NatWest T20 Blast Finals Day at Edgbaston this August, and repeating their 2015 triumph – even though no county has retained world cricket’s oldest domestic T20 title since the trailblazing competition was introduced 13 years ago.
The 2016 tournament will blast off in 50 days, on Friday May 20 – with Lancashire launching their defence against Derbyshire Falcons at Emirates Old Trafford the following day.
“We want to go back to back in the Blast, definitely,” said Croft, who had the Lancashire captaincy thrust upon him in all three forms of the game last summer as a result of Tom Smith’s cruel back injury, and has now taken over officially to allow Smith to concentrate on his comeback.
“No one’s ever done it and that’s a big incentive for us. Obviously it won’t be easy but our record in the competition is really good – we’ve got the most wins. And with last year finally getting a trophy under our belt, hopefully we’ll find it a bit easier and there will be more to come.”
Winning the Blast for the first time ended a drought of 15 seasons without a major one-day trophy for Lancashire, during which they had suffered numerous final and semi-final defeats.
“It’s been asked every pre-season, are we going to do it this year,” reflected Croft, who has a remarkable personal record of having made 118 consecutive T20 appearances for Lightning.
“This year it’s about going back to back. We won’t have any huge changes. We’ve lost Jimmy Faulkner, but we’ll hopefully replace him in the next few weeks or so. We gave a lot of young players the opportunity last year and they’ve got another year’s experience under their belts so hopefully we can kick on.”
Croft believes the changes to the schedule, creating dedicated blocks of white-ball cricket in June and July, will boost the quality of the Blast – with further improvements in 2017.
“The more you can prepare the better, and the way our season has worked in the past, it has been difficult,” he added. “The quality should be higher the more we can prepare.”
He also conceded that the North Group may have to play second fiddle to the South in terms of star quality this summer, with Brendon McCullum moving from Birmingham to Middlesex and Chris Gayle returning to Somerset. But Croft still believes the northern teams can maintain their recent dominance of the competition, with four of the last five winners coming from the North Group.
“There’s very good teams in both,” he said diplomatically. “There’s a lot of good overseas players in the south this year – the north maybe haven’t got the same quality of names. But teams like Yorkshire, Lancashire and Durham have always got those good local players and a good history in the competition. It’d be an interesting game north versus south – but I’d obviously go for the north.”
T20 winners: 2003 Surrey, 2004 Leicestershire, 2005 Somerset, 2006 Leicestershire, 2007 Kent, 2008 Middlesex, 2009 Sussex, 2010 Hampshire, 2011 Leicestershire, 2012 Hampshire, 2013 Northants, 2014 Birmingham, 2015 Lancashire