Steelbacks revive title defence
Highlights of Birmingham Bears' unsuccessful chase at Wantage Road
Northants Steelbacks breathed life into their NatWest T20 Blast title defence with a 15-run defeat of Birmingham Bears at Wantage Road.
Defending an under-par 139 for eight, the home side restricted the visitors to 124 for nine and the victory moves them to within two points of the North Group qualifying places.
In the Bears’ chase, David Willey got rid of Varun Chopra early on and the dangerous Will Porterfield followed shortly after when Willey out-paced him before delivering a diving direct-hit at the striker’s end.
Jonathon Webb then charged James Middlebrook and missed, but while Shoaib Malik and Rikki Clarke were at the wicket the Bears were still favourites and even at 60 for three with half of the overs remaining they had their noses in front.
But two wickets for man-of-the-match Graeme White in the space of three balls, Clarke driving to extra-cover and Laurie Evans walking in front, dragged the Steelbacks right back into the contest.
But with Malik in good touch and capable of comfortably hitting the ball out of the ground, it was up in the air.
And so it remained to the final over which arrived with the visitors needing an unlikely 20.
Jeetan Patel had hit a few meaty boundaries but he could not get on strike when he needed to and the task ended up being too difficult.
Earlier, the home side had posted an under-par total of 139 for eight which was almost solely down to White’s 34 from 12 balls at number nine.
When he came to the crease in the 17th over, the score was a poor 90 for seven but in conjunction with Matt Spriegel, 50 were added in the final four overs to at least put up a defendable score.
It had all started particularly badly as Richard Levi went to the first ball of the game and when Willey, another of the trump cards, departed in the next over things were not particularly rosy for the hosts.
Loan signing Adam Rossington provided a brief glimpse of his ability before he became Patel’s first wicket - his 100th in Twenty20 cricket - and the off-spinner picked up two more as he applied the brake in the middle overs.
At the other end, Kyle Coetzer was struggling to get going and when he eventually fell his 40 had occupied 46 deliveries, the kind of strike-rate that prevents an innings from flourishing.
Neither Steven Crook or Ben Duckett could get going as they fell to Ateeq Javid and Patel respectively and when James Middlebrook lofted Chris Wright to long-on it looked as though 120 would be the limit of the hosts’ ambitions.
In the aftermath, the home side's matchwinner White said: "It was a big game for us. We knew, coming into this fixture that it was a must-win.
"We didn't start that well with the bat but all we were looking for was to try to get some sort of total to bowl at and we did that in the end."
As for his own performance, White added: "Sometimes it comes off and sometimes it doesn't but I seemed to be striking the ball well today and tried to take advantage of that and get us to a total we could defend."
Highlights of Northants Steelbacks' innings