Alex Hales and Nottinghamshire ruthlessly exploited a patchy Yorkshire performance under lights at Headingley to complete a remarkable recovery in the Vitality Blast and secure themselves a quarter-final place.
The victory, the third consecutive win for the Outlaws in the competition, sees them just three games away from retaining their 2017 title. For Yorkshire, it was a frustrating night that exposed the lack of depth in the squad available to them, as well as tactical vulnerabilities that they will need to address to challenge for white-ball honours next year.
While Yorkshire opted for an all-seam attack, Nottinghamshire had three front-line spinners in their ranks. When off-spinner Matthew Carter dragged a rank delivery down the leg side to gift Tom Kohler-Cadmore four runs from the first ball, it looked like Yorkshire had made the right call.
When Kohler-Cadmore popped a leading edge straight up in the air off the next delivery, the Yorkshire crowd settled into an atmosphere of hushed frustration which, with brief moments of excitement, remained present throughout the evening.
On a disappointing night for the White Rose, the one man who had the home crowd purring with delight was their stand-in captain, David Willey. After a quiet ten overs where he and Adam Lyth judged the pace of the pitch, Willey tore into his opposite number Dan Christian, thumping two sixes and a four off the middle of the bat. Lyth joined in with some sprightly, spiralling boundaries along the way, but perished when he sent one up in the air with all the height but none of the distance.
Willey met his end just after reaching fifty, crunching Luke Fletcher to the reliable Hales on the boundary. The bulk of Yorkshire’s runs thereafter came from a beautiful but ultimately futile effort from Kane Williamson. Where Willey relied on his power, Williamson timed the ball exquisitely during his 44. Despite only hitting one six to Lyth’s two and Willey’s three, Williamson had by far the highest strike rate. He laid a featherweight touch to a wide yorker from Luke Fletcher that raced noiselessly to the boundary for four.
Nottinghamshire’s bowlers showed outstanding composure and they were backed up by a solid effort in the field. Even when the pressure was on, they held their nerve and a typically miserly over from Harry Gurney at the death yielded just five runs and a run out, four of them coming in frantically hurried byes.
It was, predictably, Willey who gave Yorkshire some early hope during Nottinghamshire’s chase of 164. After being bested by Riki Wessels in his first over, Willey thundered a ball in that Wessels could only chop onto his stumps. As so often in this competition, however, Willey’s teammates were unable to follow their captain’s lead.
Yorkshire were, quite simply, sloppy in the field. The most grievous sin was committed when Jack Brooks failed to collect at the bowler’s end, and the ball raced away to give Hales four overthrows. The run rate did tighten thanks to Adam Lyth’s off-breaks, but when Hales lofted Jordan Thompson for a magnificent straight six, the visitors took a powerful stranglehold on the match which they never relinquished. Hales’s fifty came up with a two that could have been a single but for a fumble in the deep, which rather summed up Yorkshire’s night.
By the time Willey returned at the death, his efforts were full of sound and fury, but signified nothing as Hales (71*) and Moores (43*) strode confidently to the finish line. It felt bitterly unfair that the win was secured with two sixes off the final two balls of Willey’s spell.
To say that Nottinghamshire made their total with just six balls to spare is flattering to the home side: they never looked in the contest and the Outlaws thoroughly deserved to go through after an excellent run of form.
Loyal Yorkshire fans will rightly point out that they came close. They will also rightly point out that certain key players such as Adil Rashid and Steve Patterson, are unavailable for selection. But the disgruntled contingent will point out that senior players let them down with the ball; their best bowler is a part-time off spinner with no other spinners in the side on a used track; that Tim Bresnan is not a specialist number seven batsman by any stretch of the imagination.
Unless they can clone ten more Willeys in time for next year’s Blast, Yorkshire will struggle to be anything more than also-rans in 2019. And the brutal truth is that whether you are fifth or ninth in the group stages makes no difference to the contents of your trophy cabinet.