The Steelbacks travelled to Edgbaston Thursday night, to take on the Birmingham Bears, and would have been hoping to recapture the form that helped them lift the T20 trophy at the Ground less than a year ago.
However with the major news being that Jonathan Trott had returned, things did not go well for the Steelbacks from the off. First of all, the Steelbacks lost the toss and the Bears put them into bat, with overcast conditions helping the ball swing a lot.
Thanks to the Steelbacks’ lower-order acceleration, mainly through Steven Crook’s six fours and a six in an undefeated 51 from 36 balls, the Steelbacks reached 133/7.
Birmingham made light work of their task. Varun Chopra dashed to a 29-ball half-century in an opening stand that was worth 95 before Graeme White bowled William Porterfield for 42 in the 10th over.
This brought Jonathan Trott to the crease and after getting off the mark from his sixth ball, pushing for one on the leg-side off White, he scooped a simple catch to mid-wicket off Muhammad Azhar Ullah.
It was no more than a hiccup for the Bears as Chopra saw the job through with a four and a six off Crook to reach an unbeaten 68 from 44 balls.
Thanks to good bowling from the Bears frontline, the Steelbacks were pushed on to the back foot, losing two wickets to Chris Wright in the second over and stagnating as Rikki Clarke took 1 for 8 in four overs.
Clarke’s spell, which included 18 dot balls and Rob Keogh’s wicket with Chopra’s second slip catch, is the most economical for Birmingham in the competition.
The immediate impact for Northamptonshire was that Willey faced only six balls in the power play and the big-hitting left hander barely got going before he was trapped lbw for 13, heaving across the line against Jeetan Patel.
David Sales chipped in with 21 until he was brilliantly caught by Ateeq Javid, running back towards third man, and the rate finally picked up as Ben Duckett made 21 in a 47 run partnership with Crook. But they never really recovered from the damage inflicted by Birmingham’s opening bowlers.
Before this match Clarke had bowled only one over in the competition this season – and that cost 14 runs. “There was a bit of nip in the wicket early on,” he said. “I’ve come back from a broken finger and I’m just working on my bowling fitness.”
For Northants this was a third defeat in a row and NatWest T20 Blast skipper Kyle Coetzer says Friday’s game against Lancashire is a “must win”.
“We’ve not had enough runs on the board,” he said. “Birmingham bowled well early doors and we weren’t able to set a platform. We didn’t expect the ball to nip around and swing as much as it did.”