New Road: Northamptonshire won the toss.
Steelbacks 160 for seven (20 overs) lost to Worcestershire Royals 163 for six (18.5 overs) by four wickets
News that West Indies fast bowler Fidel Edwards will not be arriving at New Road next month to succeed Steve Magoffin as Worcestershire’s overseas professional took the edge off what was a fine four-wicket victory over Northamptonshire Steelbacks last night.
Five consecutive Twenty20 Cup defeats had left Vikram Solanki’s side as short on points as confidence in this competition and, unable to qualify for the knockout stages, this game was about restoring some pride before the county championship - priority number one - re-starts next month.
Stephen Moore (52, 36 balls, five fours, one six) and Kabir Ali (28, 17 balls, three fours, one six) had done what Worcestershire have failed to do in the last five games - to get the side ahead of the required run rate early on and stage a recovery in the absence of Grame Hick and Solanki, both out again for low scores at the top of the order.
Northamptonshire’s line up was once again littered with Kolpaks, a point emphasised by a member of the crowd who politely enquired if they had “any English batsmen” after Lance Klusener had followed Andrew Hall, Nicky Boje, Johann Louw and Irishman Niall O’Brien to the crease.
Northants chief executive Mark Tagg has unapologetically defended his club’s recruitment policy, insisting that Steelbacks’ supporters “could not care less” where their players came from so long as they won.
One presumes the same shallow loyalties apply when they lose.
Their invlovement certainly made the taste of victory more sweet for Worcestershire director of cricket Steve Rhodes.
He said: “We had a lot to cheer about today.
“People often think we are out of games when we lose Graeme and Vikram so it was nice today to show that’s not the case.
“More importantly, we had eleven English qualified players out there.
“I am very disappointed with counties who produce five or six overseas players. It hurts me more when teams like that win and I think they get what they deserve when they lose.
“But if you look around the county circuit now, I am in the minority among the coaches.
“A lot of the counties have jumped on that bandwagon including the traditionalists like Yorkshire and Lancashire.
“They are good cricketers, I am not taking that away from them, but there’s plenty of good English players not playing because of them.”
In the absence of Simon Jones and Magoffin, Worcestershire produced their best bowling and fielding display of the Twenty20 campaign and restricted a powerful Steelbacks line up led by Hall (58, 42 balls, five fours, one six) and Klusener (41, 21 balls, five fours, two sixes) to 160, no mean feat.
The Royals’ batting was also much improved.
Moeen Ali and Daryl Mitchell put on a composed partnership of 40 and remained unbeaten at the end, which was particularly pleasing seeing as the much-maligned middle order has consistently misfired in this competition.
But for a poor decision from Gareth Batty, the running between the wickets was like the innings as a whole: exemplary and well-judged.
It was also mature.
When Ben Smith fell to a spectacular catch on the boundary, the game was in the balance but some fine hitting from Moore reduced the run rate to roughly a run-a-ball before Moeen and Mitchell dovetailed beautifully to get home with seven balls remaining.
But the most welcome of victories was tempered by news that Edwards has reneged on his agreement to join Worcestershire from July 19 until the end of the season.
The county has kept in regular contact with the fast bowler, currently playing against Australia, but he has been advised to rest a slight knee injury.
Rhodes, currently looking for a replacement, said: “It’s very disappointing - but we can’t do anything about that.
“There’s people out there we are looking at.
“If you look at our squad we are looking around for a bowler.
“There’s not many around who can bowl at 90mph but there are options.”
Rhodes confirmed that the club have no pending 28-day requests for players and that talks with out-of-contract players at Worcestershire such as Hick and Smith are both ongoing and the club’s main concern.
Teenager Alexei Kervezee has committed his immediate future to the club, signing a two-year deal to keep him at New Road until 2010.
The 17-year-old has made only one first team appearance this season but has greatly impressed in the Second XI and in the Birmingham League for Bromsgrove.