England (Birmingham) : The NatWest T20 Blast finals day offered a feast of fine cricket between the showers, culminating in a victory for Northamptonshire by four wickets against Durham.
It was their second victory in 14 years of this T20 competition, a splendid achievement for a county of the slenderest resources.
Overall the standard was admirably high in the wind and rain. Not so many overseas stars as the Indian Premier League or Australia’s Big Bash, but some brilliant examples of English talent: notably the hitting of Ben Duckett and Josh Cobb, the more sober batting of the winning captain Alex Wakely, and the fiery pace bowling of Mark Wood, along with a couple of pivotal catches by Northamptonshire’s Rob Keogh.
For England’s immediate purposes, Wood’s five wickets were highly gratifying ahead of the one-day series against Pakistan. Having been out for almost a year with his left ankle demanding two operations, Wood made up for lost time by enjoying the pacey pitch – if only the third Test had been staged on it. Wood’s signature is his impersonation of a medieval knight, even older than Nick Skelton, riding a horse but on Saturday he was a bucking bronco.
Duckett showed a fine sense of occasion in the first semi-final, before being dismissed cheaply in the final. Only one England team remains to be selected this summer, for the sole T20 international against Pakistan, and he put forward a persuasive case by salvaging Northamptonshire from 15 for three against star-studded Nottinghamshire with his 84 off 47 balls.
In dismantling Nottinghamshire’s international attack, Duckett united strength, skill and wristwork in a combination that no England left-hander has unfurled before. Duckett, built like a bucket, is even chunkier and stronger than Eoin Morgan, and some of his reverse-hits did not need the gale-force wind to carry for six. He not only ramped, swept and slogged; he reverse-ramped, reverse-swept and reverse-slogged.
The closest comparison is with Jos Buttler – even though England’s white-ball keeper-batsman is right-handed – for versatility of stroke. Duckett’s mother was a hockey player, Buttler’s a tennis player, but the relevant factor is that their sons were wielding an implement and hitting a ball from the time they could stand.
Notts’ target of 162 was no more than par, but they too faltered to 15 for three, and although Andre Russell did his bit with 39 off only 18 balls, it was game over when he was caught by Keogh at deep midwicket as Notts’ batting again under-performed.
In the second semi-final, between swirling showers, Ben Stokes did two-thirds of a Duckett by scoring 56 off 36 balls in his first competitive game since his right calf injury, which forbade him bowling in the semi-final or final.
As Durham scored a below-par total – making only two runs off their 20th over bowled by Tim Bresnan – they owed their appearance in the final to the incisive bowling of Chris Rushworth and Wood. Wood fired down three consecutive balls that beat Joe Root, no less, for pace; dismissed Jonny Bairstow with a screaming yorker that tailed in, and Gary Ballance, with the aid of a brilliant catch and brilliant piece of captaincy by Paul Collingwood; and in his last over bowled Tim Bresnan – with a nice offcutter – and Liam Plunkett.
In the final, Durham sagged to 49 for four as Keogh brought off his second fine catch, diving forwards, to dismiss Stokes when he was beginning to unleash. Keaton Jennings had his canny captain for company in beginning the re-build, then opened up with some fine straight-hitting until he had reached the highest individual innings ever made on T20 finals day, 88 off 58 balls. Jennings, son of the feisty South African keeper Ray, led South Africa A but is qualifying through his north-eastern mother for England.
All six totals on the day were remarkably close. Northants, chasing 154, slipped to nine for three as Wood penetrated and Richard Levi was run out next ball (at least he could claim to be the day’s worst fielder). But Usman Arshad bowled a single ball that cost 12 – a no-ball that was hit for six, followed by a free hit for four – and Wakely joined game-changing forces with Cobb, another of Northamptonshire’s burly batsmen.
It can take only one partnership to win a T20 game, as Wakely proved by sharing a stand of 123 with Duckett in the semi, then 120 with Cobb, who fell just before the end with 80 off 48 balls. Duckett, Wood and Cobb were the men of the respective matches.
Brief scores: Durham 153/8 in 20 overs (Keaton Jennings 88; Ben Sanderson 3-31, Rory Kleinveldt 2-40) lost to Northamptonshire 155/6 in 19.1 overs (Josh Cobb 80, Alex Wakely 43; Chris Rushworth 2-22 ) by 4 wickets.
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