We should all know by now Hampshire don’t do things the easy way.
When Michael Carberry struck a fabulous unbeaten century in Hampshire’s total of 202 for three, it seemed only a matter of time before the Royals’ place in finals day was confirmed.
But few would have predicted victory by the narrowest of margins – just one run – as Lancashire Lightning produced a courageous fightback which so nearly ended in victory in a pulsating game of cricket.
An extraordinary Hampshire batting effort was underpinned by Carberry (100 not out).
But James Vince (60) can take plenty of credit for the Royals’ exceptional total as the duo got their side off to a rip-roaring start.
To reach 72 for no wicket by the end of the six-over powerplay was the perfect platform.
And when the century partnership came up in the 10th over, 200 had to be the minimum target.
Vince played some glorious strokes in his 30-ball knock and could well have joined Carberry in reaching three figures had he not picked out Mitchell McClenaghan on the mid-wicket boundary from a Simon Kerrigan full toss.
But Jimmy Adams (25) then maintained the tempo, even taking out umpire Neil Mallender with one drilled straight drive that caught the former England bowler on the back with a painful thud as he tried to take evasive action.
As the innings entered the final over, it seemed Carberry might be stranded in the 90s as he struggled to lay a bat on anything.
But he brought up a thoroughly-deserved century from the final ball of Hampshire’s effort with a scrambled two, when he could easily have been run out on 99.
At that point, there seemed little to lose.
Urged on by the crowd, the left-hander simply relied on the fielder missing the stumps.
His luck was in and his leap for joy surely encompassed a large helping of relief as well.
Having played so fluently in his superlative innings, nerves seemed to the get the better of Carberry in the final two or three overs as he edged his way through the 90s.
But that should take nothing away from a 66-ball knock of supreme quality that included 11 fours and three sixes.
It meant he became only Hampshire’s third t20 centurion – behind Michael Lumb and Jimmy Adams (twice) – the last of which came in June 2010.
With Lancashire having never chased more than 200 in t20 cricket, it looked a tall order from the outset.
But they made an excellent fist of it and went so close with a gutsy effort.
Carberry clung on to a catch in the deep to help Sohail Tanvir make the first breakthrough – removing Tom Smith for 22.
But Karl Brown (49) and Stephen Moore (44) then put on 82 in speedy fashion to keep their side right in the hunt.
A key moment saw Brown seemingly bowled by Danny Briggs (two for 36), only for TV replays to suggest wicketkeeper Adam Wheater had knocked the bails off with his gloves.
But Briggs took advantage of his good fortune, dismissing former Hampshire man Simon Katich with his next delivery to put the Royals in command.
The game looked over when Moore was gone in the 15th over, chipping a simple caught-and-bowled chance to Liam Dawson.
But still the Lightning stayed in the game with Croft (43 not out) and Gareth Cross (32 not out) dragging their team to the final over needing 17 to win.
With tension in the ground rising with every delivery, Lancashire reduced it to seven runs to win from the final three balls – and then four to win from the final ball of the match.
But Tanvir held his nerve to get it in the blockhole, leaving Cross with little option but to dig it out down the ground as sighs of relief rippled around the Ageas Bowl.
An extraordinary game – and one which earned a fourth straight t20 finals day for Hampshire on August 17.