Worcestershire make their ninth visit to Blackpool for the Vitality Blast on Wednesday 7 June but their first for a one-day game; the previous eight being in the County Championship.
The Rapids began the season well with wins in their first three games, defeating Northamptonshire by 15 runs, Yorkshire by two wickets and Leicestershire by 33 runs. In the Northants’ game it was 61 by Adam Hose that helped Worcestershire to 196-9 and in reply Northants raced to 90-1 from 7.3 overs but some superb leg break bowling by Ujama Mir, 3-21, and Brett D’Oliveira, 3-28, pegged them back before a late onslaught by Tom Taylor, 44 not out, helped the Northants’ cause. But it was too little too late and they finished at 181-8 for Worcestershire to win by 15 runs.
In their second game, Yorkshire lost two wickets for 10 runs but the middle order retrieved the situation and a top score and career-best 42 by Matthew Revis helped them to 175-9 with Patrick Brown returning 3-28. In reply Worcestershire fared worse than Yorkshire as their first two wickets were lost for eight runs but once again the middle order came to the rescue with Hose making a top score of 44. Even so, 119 runs were required from the final over and Adam Finch duly obliged, finishing with 30 not out from 10 balls, with two fours and three sixes, as Worcestershire won by two wickets at 177-8 with one ball remaining.
Against Leicestershire, Worcestershire’s 183-7, Kashif Ali 69, was 33 runs too many for Leicestershire who managed 150-9, Rishi Patel making a top score of 42 as Patrick Brown took 3-25.
It was to Trent Bridge for their fourth game against Nottinghamshire and Worcestershire posed an imposing target of 226-8. Brett D’Oliveria, 44, and Michael Bracewell, 58, set the platform with an opening stand of 98 in just 6.5 overs and with 42 from Jack Haynes and 51 from Adam Hose, the Outlaws had a massive task on hand. They began well with Joe Clarke, 25, and Alex Hales, 71, putting on 58 in 4.5 overs but thereafter only Shaheed Afridi with a quick-fire 11-ball 29 reached double figures as the Outlaws were dismissed for 170 to lose by 56 runs. D’Oliveria, 4-11, and Brown, 4-24 were the outstanding bowlers.
After four wins on the trot, the Rapids came down to earth with a perhaps surprising defeat at home by Northamptonshire, who chased down 178-6 and won by six wickets with two balls to spare at 180-4. Although four Rapids’ batsmen passed 20 only Ben Cox with 46 pressed on to make a significant contribution as Freddie Heldreich’s slow left arm deliveries earned him 3-28. In reply, Ricardo Vasconcelos, a century maker at Stanley Park last season, made 44 but it was 70 not out from 36 balls with nine fours and two sixes that sealed the victory for the Steelbacks. But the defeat did not remove the Rapids from the top of the table, albeit now only on run rate from Birmingham Bears and Nottinghamshire Outlaws.
Meanwhile Lancashire Lightning opened with three victories, defeating Derbyshire Falcons by four wickets - Luke Wood 3-31, Luke Wells 66 - Leicestershire Foxes by eight wickets – Wood 3-11, Stephen Croft 46 not out - and Nottinghamshire Outlaws by 22 runs – Daryl Mitchell 85 not out.
But sadly the season went a little sour with four successive defeats thereafter.
First it was a heavy defeat by Birmingham Bears with Lancashire bowled out for just 98, Danny Briggs 4-15 including 3-0 in his final five balls. The Bears cruised home by two wickets, scoring 99-3 in 14.2 overs with Lancastrian Alex Davies making 51 not out.
Then, at a very busy Headingley, thanks to a 50-ball 83 with eight fours and four sixes by Dawid Malan, the Vikings posted 195-6 and, after Joss Buttler on his return to the side fell for one, it was only some late order hitting by Tom Hartley, 39 from 21 balls with ne four and four sixes, and Wood, 24 not out from 10 balls with two sixes, that enable Lancashire to get within 15 runs of their target with 180-8.
Matters did not improve the following day against Durham at Chester-le-Street when Croft’s 34 was the top score in a total of 152-9 with Mitchell, 31, the only other batsman to pass 30. The first four batsmen for Durham all made useful contributions with Lancastrian Michael Jones’ 43 and Ollie Robinson’s 39 being the best scores.
And in their seventh game at Trent Bridge, the Outlaws bowled them out for 145 in 18.3 overs with once again only two batsmen passing 30, Liam Livingstone, 34, and Mitchell, 31. Matt Carter’s off-spin was key as he took 3-26 while Afridi’s pace gave him figures of 2-25 with Jack Brooks, playing for his sixth county, taking 2-22 and Calvin Harrison’s leg breaks earned him 2-19. In reply all seven Outlaws’ batsmen who went to the crease made double figures with Clarke’s 42 the most significant in their victorious 149-5, made in 18.5 overs.
Lancashire Lightning, six points, are in fifth position in the table while Worcestershire Rapids remain at the top with eight points but they do have two games in hand of Lancashire.
But with six victories and two draws in the eight previous meetings between the two sides at Blackpool, Lancashire Lighting will be looking to keep up that undefeated record and put in a challenge to make the play-offs. It should be an exciting encounter and it could be a full house to see the action … do come and join in!