The last time Luis Reece left Northampton, it was to spend two days in hospital. That was last month, but he rose from the sickbed to strike an unbeaten 74, as Derbyshire shocked defending champions Northamptonshire in the opening night of the T20 Blast.
It was the perfect start for the new captain and coach combination of Gary Wilson and John Wright, the first specialist T20 coach in county cricket, and whilst it might not quite signal a white-ball revolution for the Falcons, knocking off the Champions is a fine start for a side that’s solitary quarter final appearance came all the way back in 2005.
And they did it in some style. Reece’s 74 from number three was the backbone of the innings as the visitors cruised a chase of 180, the third highest in their T20 history, after Ben Duckett had top scored with 69 for Northants.
Reece, together with first Billy Godleman and then skipper Wilson paced the chase perfectly, constantly finding a boundary in almost every over. Northants were unable to take wickets or restrict the scoring, Wilson finishing things off in style with 28 off 15.
Breathing difficulties saw Reece play no part after day of the Championship match between the two sides at Wantage Road last month, but this proved a much happier evening, a fifth career appearance in the shortest form, bringing a maiden half century.
“Much better memories than the last time we came to this ground, but the wicket was an outstanding wicket.” He told DEC.
“We said at the halfway point 180 was par and we were more than confident we could knock it off, and it was nice to put my hand up and score a few.
“It was hard to shut the batters down, especially with a rapid outfield. We said 180 was par and at one stage did we think “we can’t do this”.
“We’ve got a fantastic group of players. There’s a lot of talent in that dressing room and tonight we showed it; it was great to get off with a win.
“Hopefully tonight is something of a beginning for me. I’m looking forward to the rest of the T20.
“I know the boys we’re going to go from strength to strength. Hopefully, we’re going to get through the qualifying stage.”
The Falcons face a quick turnaround with Yorkshire arriving at Chesterfield fresh off a big victory against Nottinghamshire tonight and, whilst Reece said beating the champions lays down a marker, one game doesn’t make a summer and they need to keep improving if they are to reach that elusive last eight spot.
“Absolutely they’re [Northants] a quality side but it’s only one game.” Reece added, “Its a long campaign. We’ve got to keep making sure we’re ready for each opposition, if we do that we’ll be somewhere near.
“It’s a nice marker, chasing 180 down, but the boys have worked incredibly hard. I’ve been itching to be involved.
“Its something we’re going to have to keep building on, and come tomorrow we’re looking to improve on the performance we put in tonight.”
For Northants, though, it was a disappointing start to the defence of their crown, losing to Derybshire for the first time since 2011. It was a display in the field that never quite got going after an innings that flew, then stuttered before a late rally.
After Adam Rossington’s early run out, Duckett and Cobb added 93 for the second wicket to leave them well placed to push 200, but 100-1 in the 12th became 135-5 and only Steven Crook’s 17 ball unbeaten 34 pushed the Steelbacks up to 179-7.
Duckett was opening in T20 for the first time and, on the back of centuries in consecutive Championship games, struck ten boundaries but lost his way once Cobb, who struck Imram Tahir for a huge six in his 38, departed.
When Richard Gleeson removed Ben Salter for eight, the Steelbacks appeared well set, but 35-1 from five was the only time they got on top, Reece and Godleman taking 18 from the final over of the powerplay, and from there they never looked backed.
Only two of the completed 19 overs failed to include a boundary, and even the second of those went for nine, as they ensured the run-rate never climbed above 10 an over. Wayne Madsen was excellent on the sweep and reverse sweep of the spinners.
He fell for 37 with 47 still required, but Wilson steered his team home to ensure there wouldn’t be any late twists. A four and six off Kleinveldt in the penultimate over took his side to the brink, a fine way to mark a captaincy debut that, on this showing, could lead to brighter times for Derybshire.