Last summer, Northamptonshire beating one of the biggest counties on their own patch in the 40 over competition by a comfortable margin would have been unthinkable.
With just one ‘List A’ win all season, against The Unicorns, Northants were nothing short of embarrassing. This summer, Northamptonshire beating one of the biggest counties on their own patch in the 40 over competition by a comfortable margin actually happened, and, such is the level of improvement from the Wantage Road side, it was a little disappointing.
The Steelbacks, led by David Willey’s incredible 167 and Mohamed Azharullah’s impressive 4-20, beat the Warwickshire Bears by 125 runs at Edgbaston to secure their eighth win from 12 games in Group A of the 2013 YB40.
But their efforts, both in Birmingham and over the course of the season, were in vain as other results went against them and Northants agonisingly missed out on a place in the semi-finals on net run-rate.
Northants arrived at Edgbaston, the scene of their FriendsLife T20 victory nine days earlier, knowing a number of scenarios would see them past the group stage of a competition for the second time this summer. Whilst they were reliant on other results, each scenario required a Northamptonshire victory; a victory had to be secured before heads could be turned to Canterbury, Leeds or Taunton.
In conditions perfectly suited to batting, Northants opted to make first use of an excellent pitch after skipper Alex Wakely won the toss, and they began their innings like a team who wanted to give themselves every chance of qualification.
Willey hit Darren Maddy, who led his team out to a standing ovation in his last game at Edgbaston after making his debut there 20 years ago, for a huge straight six and a cut four in consecutive balls in the first over.
Willey’s opening partner David Sales, pushed up the order in the absence of the injured Kyle Coetzer, also had no difficulty in finding the boundary, hitting Warwickshire’s depleted bowling attack, missing the like of Keith Barker, Chris Woakes and Boyd Rankin, for four fours in his knock of 31 from 38 balls. Sales eventually fell to Ateeq Javid, chipping to Will Porterfield in short, leaving Northants 69-1 after the first ten overs.
18-year-old Ben Duckett joined Willey at the crease and showed his talent by reverse sweeping Ian Westwood to the boundary early on in his innings. The youngster supported Willey, who hit a six that damaged the sightscreen to bring up his 50 in the 18th over and followed it with four more sixes over the course of the next two overs, with a stylish 30 from 40 balls in a partnership of 78 before Duckett was bowled by Jeetan Patel with Northants on 147 after 21.2 overs.
Patel, who finished with respectable figures of 2-32 from his eight overs, picked up his second victim in his next over when Alex Wakely departed for two after picking out Westwood at long-on.
Steven Crook was Willey’s next partner, and he looked on as Willey brought up his 100 from just 62 balls, containing six fours and seven sixes.
Crook fell for 15 after being caught by Porterfield off the bowling of Tom Milnes, but Willey continued to smash the ball to all parts of the Edgbaston ground alongside youngster Rob Keogh, who contributed 38 to the 101 run partnership between the pair.
Willey moved from 137 to 151 in the space of three balls with a six followed by two fours, and, after being caught off a no-ball when on 134, was eventually caught on the boundary by Patel off the bowling of Milnes with the score on 299 from 38.5 overs.
He finished on 167, facing just 101 balls and hitting 12 fours and ten sixes; a truly incredible knock from the man who lit up the T20 Final with his performance just over a week ago.
James Middlebrook came out to replace Willey, but didn’t face a ball as Keogh took advantage of some generous bowling as Recordo Gordon conceded 24 runs from five balls before taking Keogh’s wicket with the final ball of Northants’ innings. Keogh was out for 61 off 40 balls and Northants ended on 324-6.
It was always going to be an incredibly challenging target of 325 for The Bears to chase down, and they never had any real hope of keeping up with the required run rate that soared throughout the innings.
After Willey removed Varun Chopra for 11 early on in Warwickshire’s reply, Porterfield and Freddie Colman put on 55 for the second wicket. Porterfield especially was in fine form, with his six back over the head of Trent Copeland the highlight of a 43 ball 44. But when the Irishman had his off-stump taken out of the ground by Crook with the score on 82 in the 14th over, the innings lost its spark.
Coleman used up 51 balls for his 34 runs before being caught by Duckett off the bowling of Middlebrook, whilst Laurie Evans could only muster 22 before edging a pull shot from Azharullah’s delivery into the hands of wicketkeeper David Murphy.
Evans’ dismissal brought Maddy to the crease, and Northamptonshire’s fielders formed a guard of honour for him as the crowd gave him another well-deserved standing ovation. Everything was in place for Maddy to miraculous win the match for Warwickshire, but Copeland clearly hadn’t read the script, claiming his wicket for just one run.
There was some resistance from Javid, who took a liking to Lee Daggett, before the Northamptonshire seamer dismissed Westwood for 12 and Milnes for a first-ball duck in consecutive deliveries, leaving the Bears 161-7 and on the verge of defeat with 13 overs to go.
Daggett came desperately close to following in the footsteps of Willey and taking a hat-trick at Edgbaston as his delivery following the two wickets was bottom edged by Patel.
Azharullah also wasn’t far away from three wickets in three balls as he removed Javid, whose 33 from 24 balls proved to be an annoyance for Northants, and Patel before an excellent hat-trick delivery failed to get through the defences of Gordon.
Middlebrook bowled what turned out to be the penultimate over of the match and saw Pete McKay hit him for 16, including another contender for biggest six of the day, but it took just one ball of next over for Northants to seal their victory. After 31.1 overs, The Bears were all out for 199 as Azharullah clean bowled Gordon for his fourth wicket, giving Northants an emphatic 125 run victory.
As the players shook hands and came off the pitch, Nottinghamshire were wrapping up their victory over Kent, meaning The Steelbacks could no longer finish top of the group and would be hoping to qualify for the semi-finals as the best placed runner-up in the three groups.
Whilst Essex’s win over Lancashire meant Group B’s runners-up finished on one less point than Northants, a combination of Somerset’s win over Gloucestershire and Glamorgan’s win over Yorkshire meant the Dragons claimed the final semi-final spot on net run-rate.
Whilst it may be disappointing to miss out, Northants can only be proud of their performance both to beat Warwickshire and to finish second in the group above highly rated limited overs sides Sussex, Kent and The Bears. For Warwickshire, who finished bottom of the group, their attentions turn to finishing strongly in Division One of the County Championship after a disappointing season, whilst Northants will now look to seal promotion from Division Two to wrap up what surely must be one of the county’s most successful summers.
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