Steelbacks take iron grip on qualifying berth

Steelbacks take iron grip on qualifying berth

Result: Northants Steelbacks 156/4 (Wakely 46) beat Yorkshire Vikings 153/7 (Lees 46) by six wickets, at Wantage Road

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Northants had a strong finish to their T20 campaign

Northamptonshire closed in on a place in the Natwest t20 Blast quarter-finals as they secured a comfortable six wicket victory over a youthful Yorkshire side at a sell-out Wantage Road.

The Vikings were restricted to 153-7, Alex Lees anchoring the innings with 46, but Richard Levi’s cameo got Northants off to a flyer, before Alex Wakely matched Lees’ effort to guide his side to victory with an over to spare, Ben Duckett getting them over the line with a career best 40 not out.

The Steelbacks were cheered on by over 6,500 spectators packed into Wantage Road with only standing room available. They will have to wait to seal their progression to the last eight after wins for both Lancashire and Nottinghamshire.

One win from their final two matches, at Birmingham on Wednesday and Durham next Friday will be enough, but if they lose both they could still be denied if Lancashire and Notts both win next week.

Wakely described the win, Northants’ seventh in their last eight completed t20 matches this season, as their “most complete” of the season.

“We played very good cricket there”, said Wakely. “It was probably the most complete performance we have put in because we batted well and we bowled well. We’ve been very clinical and this is a crucial time now, we need to kick on from here.

“They probably got ten too many and we didn’t quite execute our plans which is something we have been very good at in this competition, but the momentum was with us and we had control of the game.”

With only a faint mathematical chance of qualification Yorkshire gave debuts to Matthew Waite and Ben Coad in a team with an average age of only 21.

Put in to bat, they got off to a disastrous start as Will Rhodes slapped David Willey – who was making a surprise early return form an ankle injury – to cover and Jack Leaning was run out by Josh Cobb’s direct hit both without score.

Alex Lees and Jonny Bairstow, the latter captaining Yorkshire for the first time, shared a patient stand of 46, but when Bairstow slog swept Cobb to the midwicket boundary the visitors had limped to 59-3 by the half way point.

However they recovered to add 94 from the second half of the innings, Lees the fourth man out, but Liam Plunkett made 23, while there were also handy contributions from Glenn Maxwell (17), Ryan Gibson (18) and Matt Waite (14*)

Northants bowlers shared the wickets around, with all six taking one apiece, however for once they didn’t quite get it right at the death allowing Yorkshire to post a total beyond what looked possible at halfway.

That saod, the total looked insignificant after Richard Levi took 25 off Liam Plunkett in the third over, with four fours and a six, hitting a further four off before being needlessly run out for 30 attempting a risky second after a misfield at mid-off.

Josh Cobb perished in the same over from Coad, skying his first ball to be caught at deep point, but Wakely’s calm innings ensured the hosts didn’t panic.

Willey was becalmed as they added 50 with little risk, picking up a boundary an over to keep Northants above the required rate. Willey launched Fisher for six over midwicket, but hit the next straight to long-on, going for 34.

Yorkshire’s young bowling attack, who with the exception of Liam Plunkett had played a combined two games between the four of them, bowled tidily enough but couldn’t take the wicket required to hold Northants back.

With a run a ball needed from the final eight overs, Duckett joined Wakely as the hosts eased towards the line, Duckett accelerating towards the end to ease any nerves that might have developed, hitting Fisher for six to take the target into single figures.

Wakely had hit four boundaries in his 46, but fell with seven required, hitting Coad, who finished with 2-24, straight to mid-on. However Duckett hit his fifth and sixth boundaries to seal victory from the last ball of the penultimate over, just beating his previous best of 39.

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