By Matt Somerford
David Willey has needed just two games to prove that he can be the man to lead the Northamptonshire Steelbacks to back-to-back NatWest T20 Blast titles.
The 24-year-old completed another career-best night in the sprint format against Leicestershire Foxes on Friday as he blitzed a match-winning 95 from 45 balls.
The brutal assault easily bettered his previous best with the bat – the 60 he plundered en-route to ending Northamptonshire’s 21-year title drought in last year’s Twenty20 final.
Willey completed that long-awaited success in stunning style, capturing a hat-trick, to return figures of 4-9 and a celebrated 102-run win against Surrey at Edgbaston.
There were fears, however, that Willey would be unable to have the same sort of impact in the early parts of this season, due to a back injury that has so far prevented him from bowling in any format.
The left-hander proved last night it is not a problem when it comes to his batting.
Willey, who has been at Northants since he was eight, crunched eight fours and six maximums at Wantage Road from the top of the order to ensure that the Foxes’ testing 176 for four was always within reach.
While he departed with 30 still required from 24 balls, that was an ask within the capabilities of the Steelbacks’ tail as they got home with two wickets, and as many balls, to spare.
While their return to the top-flight of the LV= County Championship has proved difficult, Northamptonshire have been able to put those troubles behind them so far in the Blast.
The Steelbacks are one of just two teams to have won their opening two games to start the Blast, with Willey the major factor.
He opened the season with a game-high 43 in the Steelbacks’ successful chase away to Yorkshire Vikings. That game was even closer than on Friday night as Northants passed Yorkshire’s 162 for seven with a ball remaining.
Willey smacked three fours and three sixes in that 28-ball innings and, while it is early days in the season, he is the competition’s leading maximum hitter with nine.
That he has done so with an average of 69 and at a strike-rate of 189.04 marks him as arguably the most dangerous opener in the competition at present.