Excellent Northants Steelbacks see off Middlesex
Northants Steelbacks 135-3 (Rossington 67no) beat
Middlesex 132-7 (Bailey 46) by seven wickets
NatWest T20 Blast quarter-final, Northampton
Batting first, Middlesex lost two early wickets and never fully recovered, Rory Kleinveldt taking three wickets and Richard Gleeson and Seekkuge Prasanna taking two apiece to limit them to 132 for seven.
Adam Rossington then hit an unbeaten half-century to guide Northants to victory with 11 balls to spare after they also lost two wickets early on but responded far better than Middlesex had to book their place at Finals Day.
Middlesex - missing a host of players including Brendon McCullum, Eoin Morgan, James Fuller and Steven Finn - won the toss and chose to bat first, although Northants captain Alex Wakely said he would have bowled had he had the choice.
They were also boosted by the return from injury of hard-hitting opener Richard Levi, meaning Rob Keogh was the unlucky man to miss out for the home side.
And it took them just three balls to strike when Kleinveldt bowled Dawid Malan (0) via an inside edge to give the home side an outstanding start and Middlesex finished the first over on three for one.
The first boundary came towards the end of the second over, bowled by Gleeson, when Nick Gubbins (7) edged through a vacant wide slip area and the ball raced away to the fence. One ball later, the ball was racing in another direction - towards the batsman's stumps via another inside edge as Northants reduced Middlesex to 10 for two.
A Kleinveldt no ball was driven to the fence by Paul Stirling and the free hit was hammered over mid-wicket for six to bring some welcome respite for the visitors in the third over as George Bailey joined Stirling at the crease although the pair managed just a single from Gleeson's second over.
They found Steven Crook easier to handle, Bailey rocking back and pulling the all-rounder over mid-on and then punching him through the off-side for a brace of boundaries and they ended the fifth over on 34 for two. Stirling rounded off the powerplay with a six off Azharullah down the ground with Middlesex recovering on 41 for two.
Spinners Graeme White and Prasanna then operated in partnership to keep things tight, Adam Rossington missing a tough stumping chance in the eighth over, before Bailey brought up Middlesex's half-century by first reverse sweeping White for four and then taking advantage of the resulting field change to hit four through the covers in the ninth.
White and Prasanna conceded just 21 runs from four overs and Middlesex reached the halfway stage at 65 for two before Wakely brought Azharullah back into the attack. Ten runs came from the 11th over as Stirling, helped by a very fast outfield, found the off-side boundary again. However, trying to hit against Prasanna's leg-spin in the next over, he found only White in the deep and had to depart for 35 in 30 balls, ending the third-wicket partnership of 68.
Bailey produced arguably the shot of the innings when he reverse swept White for four despite Northants placing three men ready for the shot in the 13th over but the boundaries were still not coming anywhere near as quickly as Middlesex might have liked.
Prasanna was bowled out and finished with two for 20, his second wicket coming when John Simpson (8) picked out Ben Duckett at long-on and Middlesex were 96 for four with six overs remaining, the wickets they had lost really slowing down their progress.
Northants were outstanding in the field but there was a blip in the 15th over when Bailey hit White towards the mid-wicket boundary where Duckett missed the chance, which went for six as Middlesex passed 100. It did not prove too costly, however, as Gleeson (2-20) replaced Prasanna and with his first ball back had Bailey caught by Levi at extra cover, the Australian on his way for 46 in as many balls, inclusive of five fours and one six.
James Franklin clubbed a four through mid-wicket, breaking his bat in the process before Toby Roland-Jones (2) miscued a big shot and was caught by Josh Cobb off Kleinveldt, who grabbed his second wicket to reduce Middlesex to 111 for six in the 17th over. By now, every dot ball - and there plenty of them - was being warmly cheered by the home fans who were delighted with what they were seeing from the 2013 champions.
Kleinveldt's third wicket came when he caught and bowled Ryan Higgins for four in the 19th over and he completed figures of three for 24, bowling as many dot balls (14) as Gleeson managed in his four overs.
Some clean hitting from Franklin, who finished unbeaten on 21 in 16 balls, allied with some smart running helped Middlesex finish with something of a flourish but 132 for seven clearly left the home side the happier of the two at the break.
Roland-Jones gave Northants openers Levi and Rossington plenty to think about with a lively first over before Levi thumped Harry Podmore over long-on for the innings' first maximum as they moved comfortably to 12 without loss from two overs.
Rossington's first boundary came when he steered Roland-Jones to backward point but Levi could make no more progress as when he was back on strike, he got one that rose on him and was caught by Franklin at fine leg for nine in seven balls to leave Northants 18 for one at the end of the third over.
Northants kept up their good start as in the fourth over Rossington gave himself room and cracked Podmore over wide long-off for his second maximum and Cobb got into the act by twice hitting Franklin back over his head for four in the fifth, which ended with the Steelbacks looking very comfortable on 38 for one.
Higgins came on to bowl the final over of the powerplay and took his team's second wicket when Cobb (12) sliced one high into the air for Bailey to take the catch at point, and Northants ended the powerplay on 40 for two - one run short of where Middlesex were at the same stage.
Four runs came from Franklin's second over before leg-spinner Nathan Sowter's first ball drifted down the leg-side for five wides, then a misfield followed to allow Northants past their half-century and Gubbins dropped a sharp chance to remove Duckett at extra cover - with the pressure relieved, Northants were 53 for two after eight overs.
Duckett followed up by hitting Franklin through mid-wicket for four in the ninth over and Sowter twice through the off-side in the 10th as Northants' response to losing two wickets contrasted markedly with Middlesex's struggles against slow bowling.
At the halfway stage Northants were 73 for two and after some tidy work from Ollie Rayner and Higgins, Rossington hit a big six down the ground off Higgins in the 12th over to keep his side in charge of the contest shortly before the half-century partnership for the third wicket came up in the next over.
Knowing that he needed wickets to turn things back in his side's favour, Malan brought Roland-Jones (2-24) back into the attack but Duckett was at first more than equal to the challenge, cleverly giving himself room and flicking the quick man over the wicket-keeper for a boundary. However, two balls later, Duckett was caught at deep mid-wicket for 29 in 25 balls by Bailey and Middlesex had the wicket they desperately wanted and needed, leaving Northants on 99 for three with six overs of their chase remaining.
Rossington brought up the team's hundred as Sowter returned the attack, Wakely was immediately off the mark soon after while Podmore's return was greeted by Rossington lifting him over the ropes for his third six, and one that brought up his half-century in 45 balls. Later in the over he swung hard again and the ball sailed over mid-wicket as Podmore's third over went for 14 in all.
Wakely hit his first boundary in the 17th over as Sowter dropped short and with three overs to go, Northants needed just nine to finish off the job. Another boundary from Wakely off Roland-Jones took them to within two of victory and fittingly it was Rossington - against his former club - who hit the winning runs, sweeping Rayner for four from the first ball of the penultimate over.
He finished unbeaten on 67 in 53 balls with while Wakely was not out on 13 in 12.
This comprehensive all-round performance from Northants helped them make it three Finals Day appearances in four seasons, while Middlesex's wait for another trip to Finals Day since winning the tournament in 2008 continues.
They will be joined at Edgbaston on 20th August by Notts Outlaws, who beat Essex by 39 runs in the first quarter-final, and the winners of the final two knockout games, between Gloucestershire and Durham Jets and then Glamorgan against Yorkshire Vikings.
© Cricket World 2016