One-Day Cup semi-finals: The fun-filled month of 50-over runs in the sun

(From left) Hampshire's Tom Prest's 181 in the group game win over Kent was his first ton for Hampshire, while Kent's Darren Stevens, Sussex's Cheteshwar Pujara and Lancashire's Steven Croft have made 25 List A centuries between them
(From left) Hampshire’s Tom Prest’s 181 in the group game win over Kent was his first ton for Hampshire, while Kent’s Darren Stevens, Sussex’s Cheteshwar Pujara and Lancashire’s Steven Croft have made 25 List A centuries between them
Royal London Cup
Venue: The Ageas Bowl, Southampton & The 1st Central County Ground, Hove
Date: Tuesday, 30 August
Coverage: Ball-by-ball commentary from BBC Radio Solent, BBC Radio Kent, BBC Radio Sussex and BBC Radio Lancashire on both games, on BBC Sport website, plus desktop, tablets, mobiles and app.

It is now supposed to be only a ‘development competition’ and it no longer has the prestige of a Lord’s final – but that has not stopped the One-Day Cup being a roaring success for a second year running.

While new followers of the game of cricket have enjoyed the thrills and spills of The Hundred during the month of August, tomorrow’s stars have intermingled with some well-known, well-worn faces from times past to produce some fireworks of their own.

It reaches the semi-final stage on the south coast on Tuesday, when Sussex entertain Lancashire at Hove and treble-chasing Hampshire host Kent at Southampton.

And in a competition that has thrown up 43 300-plus innings scores in 72 completed matches, 59 centuries and countless broken List A records, there could be more fun to follow.

Trent Bridge in Nottingham awaits the winners on 17 September as, after last year’s Glamorgan win over Durham, the competition has extended the courtesy of being returned to a Saturday.

But who will make it? And what stories are yet to be told?

Will it be an all-south coast Sussex-Hampshire final? A repeat of the T20 Blast final when Hampshire edged out Lancashire? Does Darren Stevens have one more game in him? Or will it be a repeat of the 2006 Cheltenham & Gloucester Trophy final at Lord’s, when Sussex beat Lancashire?

At 37, one-club man Steven Croft is old enough to remember it, as in only his second season he was part of that beaten squad at Lord’s, the last Lancashire side to reach a List A final, which also earned Sussex their last one-day trophy.

  • Croft stars as Lancs beat Notts to book semi
  • Kent beat Leicestershire to set up semi with Hants
  • How the group games finished

Lancashire have since won their last two knockout meetings, both at Hove – in 2011 and 2020. But, although they have previously won 11 List A knock-out trophies, more than any other county, it is 24 years since the most recent of them – the 1998 NatWest Trophy against Derbyshire.

“Growing up as a Lancashire fan, a young Lancashire cricketer, you always want to win the One-Day Cup,” Croft said. “All those wins are what made this club what it is, and put Lancashire on the map in many ways. We haven’t won a trophy since 2015, and it would be nice to get one in.”

Croft, who also played in the 2011 County Championship winning side, the first Lancashire team to win a title outright in 77 years, was skipper when the Red Rose won the T20 Blast seven years ago. After his match-winning unbeaten ton at his hometown club Blackpool to beat Notts, go past 1,500 runs in all competitions this season and book another seaside trip to Hove, he is simply enjoying it all while it lasts.

“At my age, you don’t know when your last innings is going to be,” he said. “I’ve just got that mindset of, ‘Go out and enjoy the game.’ It seems to be working, and hopefully it will do for a bit longer yet.

“This season has been a massive highlight. From the winter, not knowing whether I’d play, to getting in the side and then aiming to stay, I’ve just wanted to have fun.”

Sussex, the very first winners of a knockout trophy way back in 1963, have also been having fun themselves, having enjoyed a great tournament.

They have topped 300 five times in eight matches, won six of them to top the group and earn this home semi – and they have, in Cheteshwar Pujara, a still run-hungry India Test star who has hit 614 runs so far and needs only 45 more to break Stephen Eskinazi’s aggregate run record for this competition, set only last week. But they are no one-man team. In this year’s competition, Ali Orr has hit 200 in an innings, followed up by Tom Alsop’s 189 in their final group game.

  • ECB propose less domestic cricket

At the other end of the scale, there is Hampshire’s exciting Dorset-born teenager Tom Prest.

After captaining England to the Under-19 World Cup final last winter, following a Hampshire breakthrough in 2021, Prest could have thrown his hat in the ring for a contract in the men’s Hundred.

Instead, he has continued his development, hitting 402 runs, including a career-best 181 to earn a victory at Beckenham against Kent, who they now meet in the semi-finals.

“I felt, being 19, that there is a lot of time,” Prest said. “I didn’t want to get caught up in all that stuff coming out of the Under-19 World Cup. I just wanted to play for Hampshire as much as I could this year and gain the experience of playing.

“There was no guarantee that I would have been picked up, but hypothetically, if I had then I probably wouldn’t have started.

“It would be a great experience playing in the Hundred or even being a part of the squad because you can pick so many great players’ and coaches’ brains. But I just wanted to be playing at the moment.”

Hampshire are playing rather well. Prest was part of a side that won 13 matches in a row in all competitions to win the T20 Blast at Edgbaston, maintain their hot pursuit of Surrey in the Championship and stay on course for more List A glory by topping their group.

Since winning their first one-day trophy in 1988, Hampshire have won seven times in nine visits to Lord’s finals – the last of them in 2018, against Kent, before being beaten themselves a year later by Somerset.

But, even at 19, Prest is well versed in the big occasion, having twice been at Finals Day at Edgbaston – both as a winner and a loser.

“The two finals days I’ve been at couldn’t have gone any different,” he said. “Losing in the semi in 2021 and then to win the competition this year means I’ve seen both sides of it and that can only help.

“One of the big things said before those finals days and the quarter-finals was not to try to do anything extraordinary, just do ordinary things very well. That resonated a lot with me. It is a great feeling around the club at the moment.”

  • Is this Darren Stevens’ swansong?

Hampshire start favourites, but Kent showed in their group game win over Lancashire that they should never be ignored – and they also have the ageless Stevens.

Even he was still in very short trousers the last time Kent won a List A trophy – the old Benson & Hedges Cup in 1978.

But they showed just what they are capable of by winning the Blast 11 months ago.