Steelbacks stumble to third defeat in row as Blast quarter-final hopes take a hit
Northants Steelbacks' hopes of qualfying for the quarter-finals of the Vitality T20 Blast were dealt another blow on Tuesday night as they were beaten by eight runs by Worcestershire Rapids at the County Ground.
Chasing 179 to win, Northants looked in good shape as they raced to 73 for one in the seventh over, with Richard Levi hitting a quickfire half-century.
But a collapse saw them slip to 90 for four at the halfway stage, and despite a late rally from Adam Rossington, who made 45 from 34 balls, and 24 from 18 balls from Saif Zaib, they fell agonisingly short.
It was the Steelbacks' third defeat in a row, and means they stay in second place in the Central Group, level on points with third-placed Birmingham Bears, and still needing at least one win from their final two group games to qualify for the last eight.
The Steelbacks made three changes to the team that slumped to that embarrassing defeat at Glamorgan on Sunday.
Out went Gareth Berg, Luke Procter and Tom Sole to be replaced by Ricardo Vasconcelos, Brandon Glover and Zaib - the latter two available again after a stint of self-isolating thanks to last week's Covid-19 issues.
Rapids won the toss and chose to bat, and they enjoyed a strong powerplay, with New Zealander Hamish Rutherford and Jack Haynes enjoying themselves.
They took a particular liking to Nathan Buck and Glover, hitting the fourth and fifth overs bowled by the pair for 36 runs, before Haynes perished in the next over. hitting a short one fro Sanderson to Paul Stirling at extra cover, the Irishman taking a good catch low to his right.
The Rapids still ended the powerplay on a more than handy 60 for one, and with Rutherford looking a real danger.
He continued to make hay, and reached his 50 from just 30 balls with a towering six over the head of left-arm spinner Zaib, but the Steelbacks man was celebrating a couple of balls later as he pulled off a stunning reaction catch to dismiss Jake Libby caught and bowled.
That left the Rapids on 99-2, and still in excellent shape for a charge to a big total.
Rutherford had moved on to 62 from 36 balls and the Rapids on to 121 when the Kiwi threw away his wicket, clipping a legside delivery from Buck to White at square-leg who held the catch.
That brought Brett D'Oliveira in to partner Ben Cox, and the pair added a breezy 26 before the latter top-edged Glover to Sanderson at square leg to leave the visitors 147 for four.
The Rapids were in danger of not making the most of their great start, and in the penultimate over they had slumped to 160 for six, with Sanderson pinning D'Oliveira leg before and Barnard hitting a Glover full toss straight to mid-off to go for one.
Daryl Mitchell and Ross Whiteley made the most of the final few balls though with some decent shots and smart running between the wickets, as they lifted their team to a challenging 178 for six.
Sanderson's final over went for 14, but he still finished with two for 26 from his four overs, while Glover took two for 42 and Zaib impressed as he edned with one for 21 from three overs.
That meant the Steelbacks were going to have to score their biggest score of this year's competition to win.
Levi started off like a train and raced to 26 from 10 balls, but he lost partner Stirling early, the Irishman mis-timing a pull and being caught at mid-wicket by Mitchell to leave the Steelbacks 32 for one.
The runs continued to flow for much of the powerplay, with the Rapids' all seam attack struggling to contain, and at the end of the opening six overs the Steelbacks were 71 for one, with Levi 48 not out from just 24 balls.
The introduction of Ed Barnard then proved key, as his clever changes of pace claimed the crucial wickets of Cobb and Levi, for 50, and the Steelbacks stumbled to 82 for three.
Cobb edged to short third man where Dillon Pennington took an excellent catch diving forwards, and then Levi picked out D'Oliveira at point - the South African had hit seven fours and two sixes, but his innings was over.
Vasconcelos then went for an unwise big hit and picked out square-leg off Mitchell and suddenly the Steelbacks were in a bit of strife at 90 for four.
That became 105 for five when Alex Wakely was bowled for seven, attempting to reverse sweep D'Oliveira, and with the run-rate creeping up, the visitors were now well on top.
Rossington and Zaib batted patiently to try and rebuild the innings, but going into the final four overs the Steelbacks still needed 52 and some big hits were going to be needed.
The pair did manage a few, and got the target down to 17 needed from the final 10 balls, but a superb penultimate over from Charlie Morris, in which he claimed the wicket of Zaib and only conceded four runs, proved the difference.
Rossingon perished in the final over and the Steelbacks finished on 170 for seven to lose by eight runs.
For the Rapids, Barnard ended with two for 15 from his four overs.