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Ben Duckett made an unbeaten 92 off 54 balls as NatWest T20 Blast title holders Northamptonshire Steelbacks stepped up their challenge in the north group by beating Worcestershire Rapids by 21 runs at New Road.

Duckett and Steven Crook thrashed 106 in the last 7.3 overs to lead the Steelbacks to 195 for four and Worcestershire, after being up with the rate in the first half of their innings, were held to 171 for six.

Northants got off to a flier at the expense of debutant George Scrimshaw. Richard Levi pulled and drove two fours, as well as punching a three through cover, and the opening over cost 19 in all as Adam Rossington waded in with two boundaries.

Levi went for 18, playing across the line to John Hastings, and Rossington was looking for a sixth boundary when he departed for 26, a pull off Mitchell Santner picking out Alex Hepburn at deep mid-wicket.

Brett D’Oliveira then dragged the rate back still further in a straight-through stint of two for 27 in four overs.

Alex Wakely (10) was in a two minds when he checked a charge down the pitch, only to be bowled by the leg-spinner, and Rob Keogh (6) provided a straightforward lbw decision as he swept across a straight ball.

At 89 for four, the Steelbacks were in danger of losing their way, but Duckett and Crook, as they done in the past on this ground, launched a fantastic response.

Duckett contented himself with half-a-dozen fours in reaching 50 in 39 balls but jacked up the pace when clearing the rope off Joe Leach and then pulling consecutive sixes off Hastings in the closing over.

The left hander finished with nine fours and three sixes and Crook’s unbeaten 34 from 19 balls contained four fours and a six.

Worcestershire comfortably outscored the Steelbacks through the six-over power plays, but only the overseas players, John Hastings and Mitchell Santner, sustained the chase for any length of time.

Hastings, fresh from a half-century against Birmingham Bears on Friday, hit two sixes in romping to 35 from 19 balls but was then bowled by Richard Gleeson.

With Joe Clarke (0) and Ben Cox (10) falling cheaply, the Rapids looked to Santner for something substantial. The Zealander delivered to an extent, making 38 until he was brilliantly caught by Saif Zaib on the mid-wicket boundary.

This was one two wickets for Ben Sanderson and Mohammad Azharullah landed a double in dismissing D’Oliveira (18) and Ross Whteley (12).

Daryl Mitchell (36 not out) and George Rhodes (17 not out) could only play out time in an unbroken half-century partnership.

Worcestershire captain Joe Leach has not given up hope of sneaking into the T20 quarter-finals despite a home defeat by Northamptonshire.

He said:  ”Winning four from four would give us a chance. We are still on a run of three from five.”

Leach saluted man of the match Ben Duckett for seeing Northants to match-winning total. “He played particularly well. We were a bit disappointed at the way we bowled to him at the end but he cashed in.”

Duckett said he was “very happy” with his knock. “I have been struggling the last five or six games. It was nice to get runs and more importantly see the team over the line.

“Steven Crook took the pressure off me. I was able to get off strike and then finish well with a few over the rope.”

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