Steelbacks secure home tie despite defeat to Vikings
Skipper Alex Wakely led from the front as the Steelbacks secured a home quarter-final in the NatWest T20 Blast.
Wakely smashed a superb 64 from 42 balls as his side made sure they reached the 159 runs needed to set up a County Ground clash with Middlesex on Tuesday, August 9.
The Steelbacks did lose the game to Yorkshire Vikings, by 14 runs, but it didn’t matter to David Ripley’s men as they got the home game they wanted.
Yorkshire just missed out on second spot but will also be in the quarter-finals after successfully defending their 177 for five that was inspired by 59 from skipper Alex Lees and a career-best 64 from Jack Leaning.
Richard Gleeson again bowled superbly as he took two for 15 from his three overs and the Steelbacks then set about chasing the victory total.
But they knew 159 runs would be enough to ensure they earned a home quarter-final thanks to run rate, and they got there thanks to Wakely.
Ben Duckett was also in fine form as he hit a flashy 41 from 26 for his team, who had again lost the toss.
Yorkshire were happy to bat first and they opened with former Northants man David Willey, who was making his first return to the County Ground since leaving at the end of last season.
Willey fended off a couple of Rory Kleinveldt deliveries before edging a single in a tight first over.
And the Steelbacks were to strike with the second ball of the second over as Adam Lyth found the grateful hands of Graeme White at backward point from a Gleeson delivery.
Kleinveldt and Gleeson were refusing to give the batsmen any breathing space, ramping up the pressure, and Willey was to pay the price.
The England all-rounder, who had made 17, fired the ball to White in a replica of the Lyth dismissal, with the County Ground erupting in delight.
The Vikings were to end the powerplay on 34 for two, with the Steelbacks securing the position of strength early on.
And it was proving difficult to keep White out of the action as he followed up his fielding heroics with the wicket of Travis Head, who was clean bowled for 17.
But the Vikings, who were 63 for three, fought back with a couple of big overs during the Steelbacks’ spin spell, with Leaning hammering two sixes off a White over.
Lees and Leaning both powered on to reach their half-centuries as the Steelbacks started to fall apart.
Runs were flowing for the Vikings, but the impressive Gleeson returned to bowl his third over and struck a blow as he bowled Lees for 59.
The Vikings fancied a big final over, but Muhammad Azharullah was accurate and got rid of Leaning for a career-best 64 as Rob Keogh took a tidy catch running in from the boundary.
The Vikings were to finish with 10 runs from the last six deliveries and they were to get off to the best possible start with ball in hand.
Willey struck first ball, trapping Josh Cobb LBW, but that brought in-form batsman Duckett to the crease.
And the 21-year-old was soon into his stride, playing some lovely shots as he racked up a few early fours.
Willey almost held a chance to get rid of Duckett off his own bowling and it wasn’t long until the Vikings had another wicket, as Adam Rossington was dismissed by Tim Bresnan.
It was to be a wicket maiden for Bresnan as Wakely played out the rest of the over, but Duckett was in fantastic form at the other end, wowing the crowd with some fine strokes.
But the England Lions ace was to go in the final ball of the powerplay as Azeem Rafiq had him caught by Willey.
That left the Steelbacks on 46 for three at the end of a mixed powerplay, and they had just started to get into their stride again when Steven Crook was bowled by Adil Rashid for 10.
But Wakely refused to be flustered and he was hitting some lovely boundaries, pulling a couple of deliveries for six to lift the spirits of the enthralled home support.
And the skipper was to reach his 50 from 28 balls in style as he fired a six over the head of the despairing Willey, who was fielding in front of the most inebriated fans in the ground.
But the former Steelbacks all-rounder was to get some respite from the boundary banter soon after as he returned to bowl and sent Keogh’s stumps flying.
The batsman had gone for 28 and the Steelbacks still needed 41 to win with 20 balls remaining.
But their sights were set on the total of 159 needed for a home tie and after Kleinveldt was dropped twice, Wakely delivered the six that sealed it.
The captain and Kleinveldt were both to go from the final over, bowled by Bresnan, and Yorkshire celebrated the win that secured their place in the quarter-finals.
But it mattered not to the Steelbacks, who can now look forward to a home game in the last eight.
Steelbacks: Cobb, Rossington, Duckett, Wakely (c), Crook, Keogh, Prasanna, Kleinveldt, White, Gleeson, Azharullah.
Yorkshire Vikings: Lyth, Willey, Lees (c), Head, Leaning, Bresnan, Plunkett, Rhodes, Rashid, Hodd, Rafiq.