Yorkshire secured their place in the Natwest T20 Blast quarter-finals with victory over Northants at Wantage Road, but both sides were celebrating as Northants did just enough, despite the defeat, to earn themselves a home tie in the last eight.
Northants went into the tie two points clear of Yorkshire in second place and, after the visitors had posted 177-6, Jack Leaning with a 29 ball 64, needed 159 to ensure their run-rate stayed above their opponents, whatever the end result.
Captain Alex Wakely sealed that mark by launching former team mate David Willey for six, his fifth maximum as he responded with 64 of his own, from the final ball of the penultimate over. The home crowd were already celebrating, despite Yorkshire going on to complete a 14 run victory.
Wakely said he was aware of what was required to seal a home tie against Middlesex, and was delighted to be able to reward the Northants support, with a full house of over 6,500 packed into Wantage Road, despite the mixed feelings of having fallen to defeat.
“We were aware of it; a message got sent out,” he said, “It’s always disappointing to lose games of cricket; we thought we had a good chance.
“Think they got 10 too many for us; got away from us a little bit. Getting a quarterfinal at home is brilliant, but a bit of a mixed feeling at the moment.
“One of the big things is someone’s always stepped up. We’ve had a lot of injuries this year, we’ve had to chop and change a bit, but there’s always someone who’s stepped up to the plate.
“The crowd here have been amazing. This year’s probably been as good support as we’ve ever had and it is brilliant to get a home quarter final.
“We go through as underdogs every year. No one gives us a chance, so it’s quite a good feeling. It’ll be nice to have them [Middlesex] here; it’s a bit different from Lord’s.”
Whilst Yorkshire will now have to travel to Glamorgan having narrowly missed out on the home tie, the final margin between the two sides just 0.042, their ultimate priority from the night had been achieved, with their place having not been guaranteed before the game.
Before Lees and Leaning turned the innings around with a century partnership for the fifth wicket, it had proved a struggle for the Vikings, who lost both Adam Lyth and David Willey in the powerplay, both to catches from Graeme White at point, off Richard Gleeson and Steven Crook respectively.
Travis Head could only make a run a ball 17 before being bowled by White, and the innings was limping along as the 11th over came and went with only 66 runs on the scoreboard.
However, the momentum switched when Leaning hit White for consecutive sixes at the start of the 13th, sparking a run of 97 runs in seven overs, Rory Kleinveldt also feeling the brunt of Leaning’s hitting, with three low full tosses disappearing over the ropes.
Having struggled early on, Lees was happy to play the supporting role and the pair both went to contrasting half centuries in the same over. Lees’ came up in 45 balls, while Leaning needed just 24, a fifty that had come without a six.
The partnership of exactly 100 was a Yorkshire record for the fifth wicket, although both fell in the penultimate two overs; Lees bowled by Gleeson, who perhaps surprisingly didn’t bowl a fourth over, taking 2-15 off three, whilst Leaning hit Azharullah to long-on.
Willey was making his first return to Wantage Road since leaving his hometown club and, whilst he didn’t fire with the bat, struck with the first ball of the reply, a classic Willey dismissal as Josh Cobb was trapped LBW.
Adam Rossington sliced a pull to mid-off from Bresnan but Ben Duckett continued his flying form, hitting nine boundaries as he scored almost all of Northants 46-3 in the powerplay. But Duckett was also one of the three, as after ramping, sweeping and reserve sweeping Azeem Rafiq for fours, he tried one switch-hit too many, and looped a simple catch to Willey at short third man.
Steven Crook and Wakely both hit Adil Rashid for straight sixes in an over that cost 16 but, as with Rafiq, brought a wicket from the sixth ball as Rashid spun one past Crook’s defences.
With 96 required from nine overs, Northants always had one eye one the lower target, but Wakely kept them in the hunt for the victory as he pulled both Liam Plunkett and Will Rhodes for sixes in back to back overs, adding a third off Plunkett to reach a 28 ball half century.
Together with Rob Keogh, he added 60 in six overs and that meant only a run a ball were required from the last four for the home tie, which became the more realistic target once Keogh was bowled by Willey for 28.
Rory Kleinveldt pulled Willey for six, and the skipper then ensured Northants passed the crucial 159 mark by launching his good mate Willey for a fifth maximum over long-on, and although he holed out to the same position with 17 needed from four balls for the win, he walked off to a standing ovation, very much job done in the view of the Wantage Road crowd.
It almost seemed an anti-climax as Yorkshire duly completed victory, which secured a trip to Glamorgan in the last eight, and given their recovery from losing their first three group games, captain Lees.
“When you get to quarter finals, especially T20, all you’ve got to do is play well on the day,” Lees said, “We’ve given ourselves the best chance in the last six weeks, after the first four games I don’t think anybody gave us a chance.
“So, we’re delighted with the cricket we’re playing. We’ve played team performances and confidence goes a long way in sport.
“We’re on a rollercoaster, everybody’s confident and hopefully we can keep on going.”