T20 BLAST FINALS DAY FIRST SEMI FINAL: Northants 135-5 (Levi 63*; Patel 2-31) beat Birmingham 131-6 (Javid 51*; Willey 3-30) by five wickets at Edgbaston
By Scott Hunt
There was an eerie quiet around Edgbaston midway through the second innings. That was because the home crowd, who had come expecting to roar their Birmingham side through to the final, were aware that Northants were about to upset the apple cart. Inspired by David Willey up front and guided home by Richard Levi, the underdogs dominated the defending champions and stormed through to the final.
Having lost the toss and been asked to bat, Birmingham were immediately put firmly on the back foot. Two wickets in Willey’s first over set the tone and, by the end of the powerplay, Birmingham found themselves fumbling at 26-4. A 93-run partnership between Rikki Clarke and Ateeq Javid, plus late fireworks from Laurie Evans saw them post a below par target of 132.
Northants looked to be cruising along at 64-1 after eight overs before Jeetan Patel triggered a collapse. Experience was key for Northants with Richard Levi and Shahid Afridi there at the end to see the Steelbacks home.
Birmingham never seemed to quite have the measure of their home surface during their innings. Early wickets never help the cause and when they lost skipper Varun Chopra for two to the seventh ball of the match, and William Porterfield for a duck to the eighth, the Bears knew they were struggling. Both men fell victim to David Willey and Birmingham were 6-2.
Rory Kleinveldt joined the party in the next over, dismissing Tim Ambrose caught and bowled for five , before Willey struck again to get rid of England Ashes-winner Ian Bell for four. After 3.2 overs, the defending champions were 14-4 and Clarke and Javid were faced with a rebuilding task.
By the end of the tenth over, the pair had scrapped away but struggled to score and the score was 41-4. Only two boundaries had been scored in the first ten overs. They only managed to hit three more in the next six overs but the partnership was still intact.
Javid struck the first maximum of the innings in the 17th over and the pair were getting Birmingham to a competitive position. The partnership stood at 82 (83) with the score on 96-4. When Clarke fell in the 19th over for 41 it brought Laurie Evans to the crease.
Javid reached his maiden T20 50 but it was Evans who was starring. He smashed 18 from eight balls, including 17 from the final over to get Birmingham up to 131-6 from their 20 overs. That left many wondering why Evans had been sat in the dugout for so long.
Northants got off to a flyer. Levi and Willey took 25 from the first three overs before Ian Bell caught the England international off the bowling of Oliver Hannon-Dalby for 12. Levi remained though and looked in good form. By the end of the seventh over Northants were 56-1 and Levi had 36 from 22 balls.
He lost his partner Josh Cobb after 8.5 overs when Jeetan Patel bowled the ex-Leicestershire man for 15. The score was 67-2 and the required total looked simple with 64 needed from 66 balls.
But Cobb’s dismissal triggered something of a collapse. Boyd Rankin had Ben Duckett caught behind in the next over for six, before Alex Wakely also edged to Ambrose off Patel for a duck. When Steven Crook picked out Bell in the deep off Rankin for 11 after 13.2 overs, the score was 95-5 and Birmingham sensed a chance.
Levi though remained calm and he was joined by the vastly experienced Afridi – brought back specifically for finals day. The South African Levi brought up his 50 from 36 balls and with five overs remaining they needed 31 from 30 balls.
The crucial over of the innings was the 17th, when Northants got three successive boundaries off the bowling of Chris Woakes. That all but ended the game and the 2013 champions sealed their progression to the final with 12 balls to spare.
Afridi smacked Hannon-Dalby back down the ground for four to wrap up a convincing five wicket win. Man-of-the-match Levi finished with a superb 63* from 46 balls and had guided the underdogs to a resounding victory over the defending champions and tournament favourites in their own back yard.