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Steelbacks storm into t20 final

By Chris Devine and Rob Barnett

A powerful batting display earned Northants Steelbacks a seven-wicket victory over Essex Eagles and a first appearance in the Friends Life t20 final.

Overseas players Richard Levi and Cameron White impressed together with Steven Crook as the Steelbacks hunted down a target of 169 with 11 deliveries unused.

Levi bashed 57 at the top of the order, while White contributed 36 to an unbroken partnership of 78 in 5.5 overs with the destructive Crook, who finished unbeaten on 46 from 24 balls.

Hamish Rutherford and Graham Napier had cashed in on early let-offs to strike 36 and 38 not out respectively in Essex’s 168 for five.

Rutherford was dropped on nought by White at slip and Napier cracked four boundaries in five deliveries after Alex Wakely put down a sitter in the penultimate over.

Northants’ lapses in the field looked likely to prove costly when Levi’s departure was followed by a series of tight overs that sent the required rate beyond 11 an over.

However, after Crook had almost been caught at extra-cover by a diving Mark Pettini, the Midlands/Wales/West Group winners went into overdrive.

Five sixes and five fours came from the next 21 deliveries, Crook and White proving particularly strong down the ground, and Northants were able to celebrate the highest successful chase in finals day history.

Speaking of Crook, who rejoined the club last winter, Northants captain Wakely said: “He can’t do anything wrong at the moment and long may that continue. I’m really pleased it’s happened on the big stage because the season he’s had so far has been fantastic.

“He’s been outstanding for us. The talk of the town in Northampton is he is the Northampton Botham at the moment. In all forms of cricket he’s playing brilliantly for us.”

Essex skipper James Foster also spoke highly of Crook, adding: “I know it’s probably looking too far away but I do think England should be taking a little look at Crook in my opinion. He’s had an exceptional season this year.”

Match-winner Steven Crook and Northants Steelbacks' skipper Alex Wakely reflect on the seven-wicket defeat of Essex Eagles

Match Scorecard

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Northants Innings

Watch highlights of Northants Steelbacks versus Essex Eagles in the first Friends Life t20 semi-final at Edgbaston

1:43pm - END OF INNINGS - NORTHANTS WIN BY SEVEN WICKETS TO REACH THE FLT20 FINAL! - Northants 171/3; White 36, Crooks 46 - Crook top-edges Tait for four over the keeper as the Steelbacks romp into the final with 11 balls to spare. White and Crook added 78 in just 5.5 overs.

1:39pm - Crook smites a Napier no-ball, due to not enough fielders in the circle, down the ground for a fourth personal maximum before picking up two more fours. Northants want two runs from the last two overs!

1:36pm - The first two balls of the next over, from Topley, go for four behind square before White flays another to the extra-cover rope as the half-century alliance quickly arrives. White hits Topley’s last ball down the ground for four to leave 19 required from 18 deliveries.

1:30pm - CHANCE! - Steven Crook clips to extra-cover where Mark Pettini cannot hold a tough right-handed opportunity. Crook takes advantage by lofting Tait over long-on. In the next over, Phillips’ last, White and Crook each smash straight sixes before the latter sweeps another maximum. The Steelbacks need 36 from 24 balls.

1:26pm - Another tight Phillips set of six ends with Northants needing 67 from six overs. Who is your money on?

1:20pm - WICKET! Wakely c & b Masters 3; Nor 93/3 -  Northants’ run-rate has dipped since Levi was out and the pressure tells as Alex Wakely gets a leading edge to hand Masters a return catch in the 13th over.

1:11pm - WICKET! Levi c Rutherford b Topley 57; Nor 83/2 - Topley starts his next over with a full toss that Levi can only direct to long-on. Levi looks at the umpires as if to say it was a no-ball, but with no such signal coming has to go. A crucial wicket.

1:08pm - Cameron White, Northants’ other overseas player besides Levi, drives Tait through extra-cover for four. The Steelbacks are still ticking along nicely despite losing Coetzer and post 83 for one from 10 overs.

1:02pm - WICKET! Coetzer c Bopara b Topley 18; Nor 74/1 - Topley is back and immediately concedes a cut four to Coetzer, who next ball meekly picks out mid-off to give Essex a breakthrough. 

12:55pm - FIFTY! Levi (27b 4x4 4x6) - Levi smashes the returning Napier for another enormous maximum over long-on to race to a half-century. He then thick edges four to third man.

12:53pm - Reece Topley starts with four dot balls before a Coetzer single raises Northants’ fifty and the Steelbacks reach 51 for none from the six powerplay overs. Essex were 51 for two at the same stage.

12:48pm - Masters concedes his first boundary in his third over, but it is the first of four consecutive boundaries as Levi takes six, four, six and four all to leg. 

12:41pm - Masters continues to keep it tight with an over from the Birmingham End from which Levi and Kyle Coetzer muster five. Paceman Shaun Tait, who took a hat-trick in the quarter-final versus Notts Outlaws, replaces Napier and sends down a big leg-side wide before Levi punches him for four over cover.

12:33pm - The ever-reliable veteran David Masters starts with an opening over costing a mere one run. South Africa batsman Richard Levi responds by striking Graham Napier for six over mid-on and then cuts four in an over more to the Steelbacks’ liking

Essex Innings

12:19pm - END OF INNINGS - ESSEX 168/5; Foster 32, Napier 38 - Wakely is seriously regretting his drop as Napier launches Azhar for back-to-back sixes over cow corner, the second landing in the third tier at the Pavilion End. Napier then flicks four over fine-leg to raise a fifty partnership from 24 balls. Azhar at least finishes with two tight deliveries, but Essex will be happy with their total.

12:14pm - CHANCE! - Graham Napier bludgeons Willey for a pulled six over backward square-leg and clips four over midwicket. He is then reprieved when Wakely drops a sitter at mid-off. Napier punishes the mistake with four over cover as 17 come from the penultimate over.

12:10pm - Foster, having just survived an lbw appeal from which Murphy took a brilliant diving catch, sweeps Crook for four. Essex are 132 for five from 18 overs.

12:07pm - Willey badly misfields a Foster pull at midwicket and concedes four, meaning Daggett’s four overs cost 29. Daggett then shows how it should be done with a diving stop on the midwicket rope.

12pm - WICKET! ten Doeschate c Levi b Azhar 13; Ess 114/5 - The right-hander edges directly to Richard Levi at third man. White, who shelled ten Doeschate on two, breathes a sigh of relief as another dangerman he dropped departs.

11:59am - Azhar is back but his good figures are dented by Foster getting down to sweep the paceman for six.

11:53am - Willey is back into the attack, from the Pavilion End, and has another over tarnished from its last ball. This time James Foster paddle-sweeps finely for four, beating fine-leg. That was Essex’s first boundary since the eighth over. In the next set of six, the 15th, the Eagles reach three figures. 

11:44am - CHANCE! - Ten Doeschate cuts Coezter but White, who earlier dropped Rutherford, cannot hold on left-handed at point as the powerful Netherlands international survives and advances to three.

11:43am - WICKET! Bopara c Spriegel b Coetzer 14; Ess 82/4 - Part-time medium-pacer Kyle Coetzer comes on and Bopara launches him high to deep midwicket where Matthew Spriegel excellently judges a catch a metre in from the rope. The dangerous England man is gone.

11:39am - WICKET Pettini c Murphy b Middlebrook 27; Ess 79/3 - Pettini goes aerial against Middlebrook but gets too far under it and gifts wicketkeeper David Murphy a skied catch.

11:34am - Pettini slightly opens the face to guide spinner James Middlebrook, who has taken over from Azhar, for four to third man. The number three is ticking along nicely. Daggett then fields well off his own bowling during another relatively economical over. Essex are 77 for two from half their overs.

11:30am - Bopara gets going now. The England all-rounder crunches Daggett past mid-off for four but then takes a risky single to midwicket where Wakely would surely have run him out for six with a direct hit?

11:23am - Pettini cleverly opens the face versus Daggett to get four through the vacant slip area, taking Essex to 50 in the sixth over. Azhar responds with an over costing just four as Ravi Bopara struggles to get going.

11:18am - WICKET! Rutherford c Wakely b Azhar 36; Essex 44/2 - Muhammad Azhar Ullah, the leading wicket-taker in this year’s competition, replaces Willey and has a close lbw shout against Pettini before Rutherford lifts four down the ground. However, Rutherford then meekly picks out midwicket on the pull. 

11:12am - Mark Pettini ruins a previously tight Willey over by cutting the last ball for four. Rutherford then edges Crook through a now vacant slip region before slashing a maximum and four through point. The New Zealand batsman is up to 30 from 16 balls.

11:06am - WICKET! Smith c Daggett b Crook 2; Ess 13/1 - Steven Crook shares the new ball and Rutherford again escapes when his miscued pull drops wide of midwicket. Smith falls when he slashes straight to third man where Lee Daggett shows safe hands.

11:02am - CHANCE! - Left-arm seamer David Willey opens the bowling from the Birmingham End to Greg Smith, who immediately takes a single to mid-off. Hamish Rutherford edges to slip where Cameron White cannot hold on one-handed, diving to his right. Rutherford follows up by flicking a massive six imperiously over backward square-leg and then takes three over mid-off.

Pre-Play News

10:57pm - The Essex and Northants players are shaking hands on the outfield. The action will start shortly.

10:50am - Wakely spoke exclusively to ahead of finals day. You can watch the video below but here’s a bit of what he said:

“There's a genuine belief in the team now that we're good enough to beat anyone and in Twenty20 it's all about who turns up on the day.

“We've played some very good cricket, some quite exciting cricket.

“There'll always be nerves around - the build-up, the pressure, the crowd, everything is going to take over a little bit. But my message will be to stay as calm as we can.”

10:45am - The crowd is growing here at Edgbaston as the groundstaff make final preparations to the playing surface. The boundaries are a fair way in from the stands so expect plenty of fours and sixes today.

10:35am - NORTHANTS WIN THE TOSS AND BOWL - Steelbacks skipper Alex Wakely opts to field first as the sun tries to break through the clouds.

10:25am - The shower was happily brief as the covers are off, umbrellas down and the players are warming up again. It looks like the toss will happen shortly.

10:20am - has previews for all four teams involved today. Northants seamer Muhammad Azhar Ullah spoke about pursuing a career in England so he could get married and live here rather than possibly representing Pakistan. Like the Steelbacks, Essex are chasing their first Twenty20 domestic trophy as head coach Paul Grayson is targeting.

10:10am - I wrote too soon about it being dry. A sharp shower forces the covers on and the umbrellas up, possibly setting the tone for the day. It looks to be brief rain though.

10:05am - The weather forecast for later today is unfortunately mixed, but conditions are currently dry if overcast in Birmingham. The Essex and Northants players are warming up ahead of an 11am start. The toss, news of which will appear here, is coming up at 10:30am. 

10am - Good morning and welcome to Edgbaston, which today hosts Friends Life t20 finals day. The first semi-final sees Essex Eagles face Northants Steelbacks before holders Hampshire Royals play Surrey. The final is due to take place this evening.

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