Brilliant bowling performance sees Steelbacks beat the Bears to stay top of the pile
Northants Steelbacks made it three wins on the spin to stay top of the Vitality T20 Blast Central Group with a hard-fought and impressive 38-run win over Birmingham Bears at the County Ground on Tuesday night.
A brilliant bowling performance saw Northants defend 158, with the Bears collapsing from 26 without loss after three overs to 47 for five after 10, and they simply never recovered.
The fourth over of their innings was the turning point, with Nathan Buck producing a double wicket maiden to dismiss Bears dangermen Ian Bell and Ed Pollock, with the Northants bowler ending with two for 15 from three overs.
Ben Sanderson was also outstanding as he finished with three for 11, while left-arm spinner Graeme White again bowled well to claim two for 24 from his four overs.
Brandon Glover took two for 32 and there was also a wicket for Gareth Berg.
With the bat, the Steelbacks got off to a flyer with Richard Levi hitting 35 from 18 balls, but after a collapse of their own, they reached what was to prove a very competitive 158 for seven thanks to 34 from Ricardo Vasconcelos and 30 from Saif Zaib.
Steelbacks were forced into one change from the team that secured a nine-run win over Somerset on Sunday, with Adam Rossington unable to play due to the finger injury he aggravated in that game.
That meant Vasconcelos came into the starting XI to keep wicket.
The Bears included former Northants pace bowler Olly Stone in their line-up, along with former England pair Ian Bell and Tim Bresnan.
Bresnan and Stone took the new ball for the Bear after they win the toss and bowled, and they took some early punishment as the Steelbacks stormed to 38 without loss in the opening three overs.
Bresnan and Stone were both hit for two sixes as Richard Levi and Paul Stirling got off to a flyer, but the introduction of Jeetan Patel and his off-spin reaped rewards for Bears.
Levi had got away with top edging Patel behind, the ball dropping between two fielders, but in almost identical fashion the next delivery Stirling wasn't so lucky and the County were 40 for one.
Vasconcelos was bumped up the order to number three, and he and Levi continued to power the score along.
Levi in particular looked in the mood, hitting four sixes as he raced to 35 from just 17 balls, but he perished going for a fifth, caught on the boundary trying to hammer Henry Brookes over deep mid-wicket.
That left the Steelbacks 66 for two after the powerplay and in good shape, but when skipper Josh Cobb went for an ill-advised big hit off the left-arm spin of Jake Lintott to slice a catch to Ian Bell at point it was 69 for three.
The County then got well and truly bogged down, scoring just 22 from the next six overs, and losing Alex Wakely along the way, as he was clean bowled by Bresnan playing across the line, although the ball may have kept a touch low.
That dismissal bought Saif Zaib to the crease, and he and Vasconcelos started to get things moving again by nudging the ball into the gaps, but then the latter was stumped going down the pitch for Lintott to go for a well made 34 from 29 balls.
The onus was now very much on young Zaib, and he again rose to occasion by hitting 30 from 28 balls but when he was pinned lbw by Stone in the 19th over, the Steelbacks were looking well short at 135 for seven.
But there was a welcome late flurry as Buck and White both made valuable contributions, and they both hit big sixes off Brookes' final over to take the total up to 158 for seven.
Not as many as they would have wanted at the start, but more than they would have been expecting at the 17 over mark. But would it be competitive?
Much like the Steelbacks had, the Bears set off like a train and were 26 without loss from three overs, with Bell and Pollock looking in good form - but then Buck struck!
The fourth over was that double wicket maiden, as both Bell and Pollock perished trying to hit Buck back over his head and only succeeding in hitting the ball high in the air and into the safe hands of Sanderson.
Now 26 for two, the visitors needed to reset.
But before the end of the powerplay Sam Hain was back in the hutch, firing an uppish drive straight to Gareth Berg at extra cover off the bowling of Sanderson.
Bears ended the powerplay on 29 for three, having scored three runs and lost three wickets in three overs.
And it would get worse for them as Adam Hose was bowled by a beauty from Graeme White, the ball spinning and leaving him.
Then in White's next over, Bears skipper Will Rhodes got in a right mess as he tried to reverse sweep White, missed the ball and was bowled to leave the Bears 38 for five.
Bresnan and Lintott attempted a recovery mission, and they took the score to 68 before the latter edged a beast of a rising delivery from Glover behind.
Bresnan took that wicket as his cue to go big, and he hit White for 14 in one over, but he tried the same off Berg and picked out Wakely on the mid-wicket boundary to go for 28 and leave the Bears 89 for seven.
From there on in it was a a case of when not if Northants would wrap up the win, and the Bears were bowled out for 120 in the final over, with Sanderson wrapping it up with two late wickets.