Birmingham Bears maintained their strong pursuit of a third successive NatWestT20Blast Finals Day appearance with an 18-run (D/L) victory over Lancashire Lightning at Edgbaston.
"The holders' grip on the NatWestT20Blast trophy is looking less than secure."
New Zealand star Luke Ronchi, whose stint as overseas player is to be truncated early next month by his call up to Black Caps duty, will leave Birmingham safe in the knowledge that he won at least one game for the club after his half-century underpinned their total of 144 for nine.
Against disciplined Lancashire bowling, only Ronchi (53, 35 balls, three fours, four sixes) made much headway as paceman Nathan Buck (a T20-best 4-0-26-4) and spinners Stephen Parry (4-0-27-2) and Arrun Lilley (4-0-29-1) bowled skilfully.
But the Lightning batsmen found run-scoring no easier and when rain arrived after 6.3 overs of their reply they had faltered to 38 for four, the loss of early wickets meaning they were well behind the D/L equation.
Four days after the humiliation of a 242-run (D/L) Royal London Cup defeat to Yorkshire at Emirates Old Trafford, the Lightning started strongly with the ball. The second and third overs, from Jordan Clark and Buck, conceding just two runs apiece and bringing the wicket of Sam Hain who edged Buck's seventh ball.
The paceman struck again with his 14th which Ian Bell, having advanced briskly to 18 (10 balls), chopped to Martin Guptill at point.
Stephen Parry added the wickets of Will Porterfield, caught at extra cover, and Laurie Evans, who looked dangerous on 24 from 22 balls but was then superbly stumped by Jos Buttler.
"He lifted Buck into the crowd over mid-wicket to reach a 32-ball half-century"
Chris Woakes drove Arron Lilley to extra cover and Rikki Clarke was yorked, first ball, by George Edwards so it was left to Ronchi to give the Bears anything to bowl at. He lifted Buck into the crowd over mid-wicket to reach a 32-ball half-century before his defiance ended when he sent up a skier trying to repeat the feat.
The batsmen's toil continued when Lancashire went in. Guptill hoisted Olly Hannon-Dalby to mid-off, Jordan Clark spliced a return catch to Clarke and Karl Brown lifted Woakes to deep square leg.
When Buttler, match-winner with the bat against the Bears in the Royal London Cup three weeks ago, offered Clarke another return catch, the Lightning were 38 for four. Then the rain arrived and stayed to deny Lancashire a chance to fight their way back into the game. The holders' grip on the NatWestT20Blast trophy is looking less than secure.