ESSEX Eagles captain Simon Harmer admits they were beaten by the 'better team' after losing their Vitality Blast quarter-final by seven wickets at Lancashire, writes GRAHAM HARDCASTLE.

Lancashire blitzed a 161 target to win with 26 balls remaining and set up a blockbuster Roses semi-final with Yorkshire at next Saturday’s Vitality Blast Finals Day.

The arch-rivals will meet at Edgbaston after playing out two North Group thrillers earlier this summer; a tie and a one-run win for the Lightning.

Here, a 10,800 strong crowd watched Steven Croft secure Lancashire’s record-equalling ninth Finals Day appearance alongside Hampshire with a brilliant unbeaten 76 off 48 balls, including four sixes.

Croft, 37, shared half-century partnerships for the second and third wickets with Phil Salt and Dane Vilas - 51 off 23 - to set up his seventh Finals Day.

Harmer said: “We knew we had to bowl well in order to defend that. But hats off to Crofty and Dane. They were great knocks.

“That’s what knockout games are about. You need people to put their hands up. They did it tonight.

“There are a lot of things you could pull apart.

“They were a lot of fuller with their slower balls, and we were a touch short. They tended to sit up, allowing them access different parts of the ground.

“We also lost wickets at crucial stages.

“It didn’t happen for us tonight, but we were beaten by the better team.”

The game, which saw Essex make 161 for five on a slowish pitch, saw Lancashire’s Salt, released late by from England to play, face Essex’s Michael Pepper, who top-scored with 36 off 28.

Adam Rossington hit two fours and a six over long-on off Tom Hartley’s spin as 15 came off the third over - 29 without loss - to get Essex moving.

He was then brilliantly caught for 25 by a diving Tim David at deep midwicket off Luke Wood, leaving Essex 43 for one in the fifth.

The Wood-David combination struck again to remove Dan Lawrence for 15 as Essex fell to 84 for three in the 11th.

But back to the powerplay. Pepper was caught behind by Salt in the fifth over on nought, only to successfully review, before Matt Critchley was caught at cover off Danny Lamb.

At 53 for two after six overs, it was even-stevens.

Every time you felt Essex were getting on top, Lancashire struck.

The departure of Lawrence, smartly caught by mid-on by David, was an example.

But the 13th over brought the prime example when Pepper swept Hartley for six to take Essex beyond 100 before falling stumped by Salt next ball (101 for four). It was a dismissal which sent social media crazy!

Salt was at it again a couple of overs later, with some sharp work getting Tom Westley stumped off Luke Wells’ leg-spin. Lancashire were on top as their visitors fell to 112 for five in the 15th.

Essex went six overs without a boundary from the 10th to the 16th.

The Eagles were revived by an unbroken 49 stand for the sixth wicket between Paul Walter and Dan Sams, who shared three sixes to push their side just beyond 160.

Walter finished 34 not out and Sams 25 as Lancashire’s trio of seamers - Tom Bailey, Lamb and Wood - went for 28 apiece. Wood was the pick with two wickets.

The Lightning response got off to an unfortunate start when, six balls in, Keaton Jennings was run out backing up without facing following a Sam Cook deflection (six for one).

But Salt and Croft were quickly into rhythm to turn the game decisively with a 73-run partnership inside eight overs.

Nineteen runs came off the third over, including back-to-back Croft sixes against Sams’ left-arm seam straight and over third - 31 for one.

The freewheeling advance continued as the powerplay ended at 61 for one.

By the time Croft, strong all around the wicket, reached his fourth fifty off 32 balls, the Lightning were 77 for one in the ninth over.

Salt (27) was then victim of a superb relay catch on the deep mid-wicket boundary off Critchley’s leg-spin, Pepper the initial fielder throwing it to Allison before stepping on the rope - 79 for two in the ninth.

Now it was the turn of captain Vilas to busily play the support act to Croft as the pair rubber-stamped a 15th game unbeaten on home turf.

In many ways, with his aggression, Vilas actually took on the lead role.

He slog-swept two sixes off Critchley over midwicket to race to 35 off 14 balls. By that time, the score was 134 for two with 28 needed off seven overs.

It was game over, but not before Vilas reached his 50 off 22 balls.

He shared 78 inside seven overs with Croft before falling to Simon Harmer with five needed.