Horton supplies calm in t20 storm
On a day when some of the most destructive hitters in the county game will flex their muscles, the presence of Paul Horton at Edgbaston proves there is more to the Friends Life t20 than brute force.
While the likes of Kieron Pollard, Somerset's Herculean all-rounder, and Hampshire’s explosive Shahid Afridi threaten to put spectators in as much danger as fielders at finals day tomorrow, Horton's middle-order savvy is just as important to a Lancashire team that have become specialists at defending a total.
Even in a side hardly renowned for its explosive strokeplay, Horton’s strike-rate of 103 is noticeably inferior to that of his top-order colleagues and positively pedestrian by modern Twenty20 standards. Lancashire are all the better for it.
Look no further than the quarter-final, when Lancashire’s 152 for eight was widely seen as insufficient against an experienced Sussex outfit playing on their own turf.
When Sussex, becoming the latest side to fall victim to Lancashire’s suffocating tactics in the field, mustered just 132 in reply, the value of Horton’s unbeaten 49 off 45 balls at number five became apparent.
It may not have been the most explosive innings - founded on orthodox strokeplay, rotation of the strike and, perhaps most crucially, a clear head, it contained just three fours - but it was precisely what Lancashire needed.
“In the quarter-final I thought 160 was a good target,” Horton told ecb.co.uk. “We didn't quite get that and at half-time the commentators were all saying we were below par.
“But if we had gone for 180 and been bowled out for 120, we would probably have lost that game.
“Part of my role is to establish what is a good target, according to conditions. That’s one of the key skills in Twenty20 - to judge what is a good score.
“Until both sides have batted on the surface sometimes it’s hard to know, so you've got to work out what's going to be a good total. You have to have belief in your own judgement.”
Lancashire are the only one of the four sides in action today not to have won this competition, having failed to convert their consistency in the game's shortest format into a trophy.
They have reached finals day three times before and only twice in nine seasons have they not qualified for the quarter-finals.
Although Horton played no part in their only appearance in the final - they lost to Somerset in 2005 - he shoulders his share of responsibility for failing to furnish the Old Trafford trophy cabinet in recent years.
“With the amount of talent we've had at Lancashire we should have won trophies,” he admitted, speaking with an honesty that betrays his Australian upbringing.
“That applies to all cricket - not just Twenty20 - and we know that as much as anybody.
“We have won a high percentage of Twenty20 games over the last few years - probably as much as any other team - but that's not quite the same as winning trophies.”
Whisper it around Accrington, but there is a growing feeling that this year may be different: Lancashire sit top of the LV= County Championship with three games remaining and head into finals days on the back of seven successive t20 wins.
“Being in good form in a couple of competitions really helps you,” claimed Horton, while likening sport to a “game of momentum”.
“We went into that quarter-final not having lost a game of cricket for six weeks. That builds confidence and you can take it into all forms of the game. You know you can win and you're not daunted by anything. It's a nice feeling.”
The schedule has also favoured Horton and company; their absence from the latest round of championship fixtures means they have had the rare privilege of a week to prepare for the showpiece event of the domestic calendar.
“The break has come at a great time,” he said. “It's very rare these days to have a few days off, and one of the hardest things is going from Twenty20 cricket to four-day cricket and back to Twenty20 cricket.
“It's good we can have a break and freshen up to prepare for big days like this. It has just been about Twenty20 this week.”
Lancashire's progress this summer - regardless of what happens in the final month of the season - has been all the more pleasing for fans whose expectation levels have dipped with every big name heading out of Old Trafford in recent years.
If Horton is unconvinced by the argument that less pressure has helped raise performance levels, he nonetheless accepts that the sense of togetherness in the dressing room has been carried on to the pitch.
“We're still playing for Lancashire and, as professional sportsmen, we want to win every time we pull on the Red Rose shirt. We are expected to win,” he pointed out.
“We've not had an overseas batsman this year and there’s no Mal Loye or Stuart Law any more, so we’ve not had the so-called big names to take the emphasis off our own performances.
“People have had to step up and fill their shoes. We have a very close-knit side and we play for each other; we win games as a team.
“We might not have so many stars any more, but these players will become stars. Winning trophies is how you do that.”
Lancashire squad: Glen Chapple (captain), Andrea Agathangelou, Karl Brown, Jordan Clark, Steven Croft, Gareth Cross (wicketkeeper), Paul Horton, Gary Keedy, Simon Kerrigan, Sajid Mahmood, Farveez Maharoof, Stephen Moore, Stephen Parry, Luke Procter, Tom Smith.