STEVEN Croft smashed 82 of 71 balls as Lancashire narrowly beat Leicestershire in the opening Clydesdale Bank 40 clash at Old Trafford.

Croft’s classy knock meant that Josh Cobb’s maiden one-day century for the Foxes was all in vain.

Leicestershire came up five runs short despite the former England U21 opener anchoring the visitors’ pursuit of 297 with a belligerent 137 in a Group A clash littered with good batting and indifferent bowling and fielding.

Cobb hit eight fours and six sixes in 99 balls but fell to a superb catch from Lancashire captain Croft as he ran back from point, leaving the Foxes at 223 for four at the end of the 31st over, still needing 74 to win.

On a good pitch, Lancashire put their LV= County Championship batting woes behind them to post 296 for three – the club’s highest ever score in this form of the game.

Croft top-scored with 82 off 71 balls, while South Africa’s Ashwell Prince added 79 off 73 and Stephen Moore a 53-ball 74.

But the Lightning should have been defending a score in excess of 300 after Prince and Moore put on 135 for the first wicket inside 17 overs.

Although the scoring rate was never slow, the home side could have put the game completely out of reach had they been a bit more clinical in the latter stages.

Leicestershire’s Robbie Joseph and Claude Henderson both conceded more than nine runs per over.

Cobb had a hand in the magic moment for the Foxes in the field when he relayed a ball to Joseph from long-on to long-off as he was going over the rope, with the latter completing the dismissal of Prince off Henderson’s bowling in the 28th.

And he provided their magic with the bat too after being handed a life on nought when Moore dropped a simple chance at first slip off Sajid Mahmood’s first ball of the innings.

Mahmood had Jacques Du Toit caught behind in the third over but Cobb and Greg Smith (22) built a platform with a second-wicket stand of 84 in 10 overs.

England Lions left-arm spinner Simon Kerrigan, the game’s best bowler with three for 44, then removed Smith and Ramnaresh Sarwan, caught at short cover and long-on respectively, to put the hosts on top at 113 for three in the 18th over.

But Cobb bossed a fourth-wicket stand of 110 inside 14 overs with Boyce, who was happy to accumulate at a run-a-ball. Cobb hit sixes over mid-wicket, long-on and straight but Leicester were left with too much to do when he fell to Naqaash Tahir.

When Boyce was caught at deep mid-wicket by Croft off Mahmood in the 37th over, a task of 38 off 20 balls was just too stiff.

n Stephan Myburgh’s hard-hitting 77 laid the foundation for a thrilling one-run victory by Holland over Gloucestershire in the opening Clydesdale Bank 40 Group B match at Bristol.

In Group C, Kent saw off Yorkshire despite a late flurry of wickets that left the result in doubt for longer than seemed likely.

Warwickshire were six-wicket winners over Northamptonshire at Edgbaston England batsman Ian Bell making 82no while former Enfield ace Keith Barker took three for 41. And Surrey’s Group B win over Scotland came courtesy of the Duckworth-Lewis method, with the hosts 118 for six chasing a reduced 137 from 29 overs.