Loye leads the charge

Source - manchesteronline.co.uk

Mal Loye joined Lancashire to play "in the big matches on the big stage" after years of winning sweet FA with Northants. But he's had nothing but semi-final heartbreak.

Mal Loye joined Lancashire to play "in the big matches on the big stage" after years of winning sweet FA with Northants. But he's had nothing but semi-final heartbreak.

On the hottest day of the year in 2003, he staggered off the New Road square as a hero with an unbeaten century, but as a loser after a dramatic Worcester fightback in the Cheltenham & Gloucester semi.

He had been on the field of play all day in baking temperatures of 100 degrees in mid-afternoon, and was badly hit by de- hydration and emotional shock.

Last year he had to pull out of the Twenty20 Cup finals day at Edgbaston with Achilles tendon trouble, and could only watch as Lancashire went down in another last-over thriller.

Those awful experiences have spurred him on this season.

He wants that big game more than ever, and it's within touching distance with Lancashire tackling Surrey in the first semi of Twenty20 finals day at the Brit Oval.

Loye is in magnificent form, his 194 against Essex last week leaving him just six runs short of the first Lancashire player to claim double centuries in successive championship innings. And he has blazed a trail of devastation throughout the Twenty20 tournament.

Using his extraordinary sweep to good effect he started with 59 against Yorkshire and, after a brief run of low scores, he slammed 47, 100, 39, and 73 as Lancashire topped their qualifying group and then demolished Derbyshire in the last eight.

His performance in that quarter-final at Old Trafford proved that the 32-year-old opener should revel on the prime batting surface at the Oval, but there is no chance of over-confidence after the disappointments of previous semis.

"It took a long time to get over that game at Worcester," he said. "The heat was terrible, but all that was in my mind was winning, and maybe having a couple of beers afterwards.

"Then Andrew Hall bowled superbly to turn it Worcester's way and I was left standing at the wrong end for the final over.

"It took me a long time to walk off that pitch. And when I did, I was asked to give a urine sample for a drugs test. Nothing more sinister than my name being picked out of the hat, but I was disappointed, it was like adding insult to injury.

"And anyway I couldn't comply at first, I needed a beer.

"Then last year I couldn't even play at Edgbaston because of the injury. That was even worse, having to watch. Our overs felt more like 60.

"Again I thought we were there, but Surrey came back strongly at the death.It took me a few days to get over the sheer frustration.

"We didn't need reminding that it's never over until the fat lady sings. You've got to finish the job.

"On a hot day, like Worcester and Edgbaston, and in the heat of the battle it's vital to stay focused and not get carried away with the thought that you've done enough."

Lancashire, who have twice enjoyed dominance as the Kings of One-Day Cricket, first in the 1970s and then the 1990s, might well have glanced condescendingly at the introduction of a 20-over tournament after all their triumphs.

But Twenty20 has taken the country by storm and there's no doubt in Loye's mind that the Brit Oval offers the big stage.

"Twenty20 is massive, the ground will be full and the atmosphere electric and it's a cup we desperately want to win," he added.

"We have worked hard on Twenty20 and have developed a good game plan."

Loye and Stuart Law have struck up a superb opening partnership which enables Lanca- shire to take full advantage of the fielding restrictions in the first six overs.

Tomorrow Loye will be trying to lay the basis of a major total against Surrey and haul Lancashire into their first final for seven years.

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