David Willey returned to haunt his former county as Yorkshire moved into the qualifying places in the Natwest T20 Blast’s North group; Willey smashed 74 as Yorkshire amassed 215-6 at Headingley and then bowled Northants out for 140 to claim a 75 run win.
The margin could be crucial, as Yorkshire moved to 14 points, third in the North group two points behind Northants. The pair meet again at Wantage Road in next Friday’s final round of fixtures and with Yorkshire dramatically closing the net run-rate gap, victory could give the White Rose a home last eight tie, although defeat could still see them miss out altogether.
Willey had only scored 99 runs in six innings in this years’ Blast but the sight of his former teammates, for whom he so memorably led to the title in 2013, saw him back to his explosive best, hitting six sixes and five fours in his 46 ball innings.
Further contributions down the order saw Yorkshire pass 200 for the second time in three days at Headingley, following their 223-6 against Durham, and Northants were up against it from the start with Richard Levi unable to bat having injured his shoulder taking a stunning catch.
Ben Duckett hit 51, whilst Steven Crook added 43 but the Steelbacks kept losing wickets and were eventually bowled out for 140 in the 16th over, and head coach David Ripley admitted they had known what to expect from Willey.
“We talked about Dave a little bit before the game and what we might face, in the powerplay he sat in a bit, didn’t try anything too expansive,” he said,
“Obviously Dave and spin is a dangerous combination and he had the better of us tonight, and we’ve seen him do that before for us.
“We’ve just got to think how we’re going to cope with that next week as it’ll be the same situation, we’ll hold our nerve, we’re still a good side, with the results it looks like we’ll have a showdown next week.
“Knocking off 200 without our usual combination was difficult, Ben Duckett was sensational, he played beautiful cricket shots with that bit of specialness, half time we were reasonably close but we needed Seekkuge [Prasanna] or Rory [Kleinveldt] to have a bit of a day but they didn’t manage to contribute and the games gone.”
Northants had kept Willey subdued for the opening five overs as Yorkshire made a pedestrian start at 29-1; Adam Lyth miscuing Richard Gleeson’s opening ball to mid-on, however Alex Lees took Gleeson for three consecutive fours at the start of the sixth, and the hosts never looked back. Willey launching the first of his sixes off Prasanna in the next, Josh Cobb hit in the same fashion two overs later.
Prasanna’s two overs went for 35, 30 of which came from Willey’s bat with two further sixes, and by the halfway stage, Yorkshire had more than caught up, with 70 runs in the second part of the first ten, Willey going to his half century off 31 balls, having scored only 8 off his first 14.
The century stand came up between Willey and Lees, but the latter then departed, Richard Levi with a sensational one handed diving catch at point to remove the hosts’ skipper for 35, but it would prove costly as Levi left the field with his arm in a sling made from his shirt and it looking like a reccurrence of the shoulder problem suffered early last month and meant he played no further part in the game.
Willey hit a sixth six off Ashraf but then changed his bat and was immediately walking back to the pavilion, as the first ball with the new willow went straight to deep midwicket.
However Willey had set the platform and Jack Leaning continued the carnage with two sixes and two fours off Cobb’s second over which cost 24, before holing out for a 14 ball 30, but the maximums kept coming, Travis Head adding two before Tim Bresnan hit three in nine balls as he finished 26 not out.
Chasing 216 a man short was always an unlikely task and it became even more so when Northants lost three wickets inside the powerplay, despite Duckett’s fluent innings ensuring they were up with the rate at 69-3.
Cobb hit Bresnan for six in the second but top edged the following ball, Adam Rossington mis-hit Liam Plunkett to mid-on and skipper Alex Wakely chipped the next ball straight to cover.
Amongst the wickets, Duckett continued his exceptional week, following scores of 163* and 61 for the England Lions by hitting eight consecutive boundaries in the powerplay, four off Bresnan, a fifth off Plunkett, before two reverse sweeps off Azeem Rafiq and ending the run with a six, again reversing but this time off Adil Rashid.
The 21-year-old went to a second T20 half century in 21 balls but with the scoreboard pressure they had to keep the foot on the gas and ran past one from Rashid to be stumped – with him going any realistic chances Northants had.
Although Steven Crook hit six fours and a six in his 26 ball 43, wickets kept falling at the other end, the chase all but over in the 11th over when Prasanna ran himself out for a single, before Kleinveldt pulled his second ball straight to deep midwicket.
Crook soon followed, LBW to Rafiq, who also picked up last man Graeme White, as Northants kept fighting to the end, but being dismissed inside 16 overs could yet prove costly with what was a sizeable net run-rate advantage reduced to the slenderest of margins and means that likely only a win in next Friday’s showdown will be enough for a home quarter final.
“I don’t know what the damage is on the run-rate but I’d have liked us to do a bit better with that,” Ripley admitted.
“But that’s what we’ve got, our main concern is winning the game, we want to go into the quarter final on the front foot winning so that’s our main focus.”