WORCESTERSHIRE Rapids remain in contention to reach the knockout stages in the Vitality Blast despite a 25-run home defeat to North Group leaders Lancashire Lightning.

However the holders now face a crucial clash with Notts Outlaws at Blackfinch New Road on Wednesday.

Lightning secured a top-two spot and a home quarter-final after Steven Croft hit a career-equalling 94 in the visitors’ formidable total of 218-5.

Saqib Mahmood then pressed home Lancashire’s advantage by removing Rapids openers Hamish Rutherford and Riki Wessels in his first two overs.

The game was effectively ended when Rapids captain Moeen Ali became the first of two wickets to fall in spinner Glenn Maxwell’s first over and the Australian ended with the excellent figures of 3-23 from four overs.

Some typical hitting by Ross Whiteley – including his 100th T20 six for Worcestershire – kept the capacity 4,500 crowd entertained.

Rapids opted to field first and struck an immediate blow with Alex Davies top-edging the first delivery of the game from Dillon Pennington to keeper Ben Cox.

Liam Livingstone collected four boundaries in Wayne Parnell’s second over and the Lightning half century came up in 4.1 overs.

Croft raced to his half century off just 24 balls.

Livingstone (32 off 26 balls) helped him add 83 in eight overs before he lofted Ed Barnard straight to Whiteley at deep mid-wicket.

Glenn Maxwell (12) flicked Pat Brown over the fine leg boundary for six but tried to repeat the shot from the next ball and was pouched by Pat Brown.

Captain Dane Vilas made a quickfire 23 before he cut hard at Barnard and picked out Rutherford at third man.

Croft continued to blaze away and hoisted Brown for two sixes in an over costing 22 runs.

He moved onto 94 before attempting a slog sweep in the final over from Moeen and was stumped.

Croft’s fifth-wicket partnership with James Faulkner (34 off 17 balls) was worth 60 in five overs.

When Rapids launched their reply they were immediately on the back foot as Rutherford (15) lobbed a Mahmood delivery to mid-on and Wessels (14) perished at deep mid-wicket.

Tom Fell (3) was taken at long on off leg spinner Matt Parkinson and then Maxwell’s introduction to the attack paid double dividends. Moeen (23) was bowled by his first delivery and then Parnell (1) perished at long on.

Rapids lost half their side for 59 and required 151 from the final 10 overs.

Whiteley reached a 20-ball half century which included 26 from an over by Richard Gleeson. It included two sixes and seven fours.

A stand of 86 in eight overs with Cox (28) ended when the keeper provided Maxwell with a third scalp with Davies holding onto the chance at deep mid-wicket.

Whiteley ended unbeaten on 89 from 40 balls as Rapids closed on 193-7.