IT was a strange old night in Northampton.
The pre-match entertainment included the sight of scantily-clad cheerleaders running out to the anthem “Who let the dogs out?”, an irony not lost on the 5,000 crowd.
Minutes later, a schoolgirl led out to the centre of the field by a club official to ring the five-minute bell before start of play stubbornly refused to perform the task, keeping her hands pressed firmly in her pockets.
And a mini fireworks display that greeted the players as they entered the arena dispensed thick choking smoke among the County Ground patrons, who covered their mouths until the bad smell had cleared.
It was not the most auspicious start to a contest between two of the North Division’s most-fancied sides, but the cricket was of happily more successful character as Yorkshire beat Northamptonshire by 16 runs.
After winning the toss, Yorkshire made 181-3, Jonny Bairstow top-scoring with an unbeaten 60 from 37 balls with four fours and two sixes.
Adam Lyth contributed an undefeated 46 from 31 balls with two fours and a six, the left-hander adding an unbroken 90 for the fourth-wicket with Bairstow from just 51 balls.
Northamptonshire kept pace for three-quarters of their chase, but once the South African Richard Levi had fallen in the 14th over after smashing 76 from 47 balls, including five fours and five sixes, Yorkshire turned the screw on a night when Azeem Rafiq, Steve Patterson, Rich Pyrah and Ollie Robinson each took two wickets.
In sultry weather, with the threat of a storm never too far away, Olly Stone began the game with five wides down the leg-side to Andrew Gale.
The boundary was greeted with an ear-splitting blast of music over the PA system, with the volume preposterously loud for even a T20 fixture.
Stone, the 20-year-old right-arm fast-medium bowler, took a moment or two to find his stride but he landed the opening blow with the final ball of his second over, the third of the innings.
Aaron Finch, who had near single-handed won the T20 Roses game at Old Trafford the previous Friday, with a blistering 88 from 55 balls, made no impact this time as he skied to wide mid-on, where Rob Keogh judged a very good catch.
The Australian batsman, who scored only five runs from 13 deliveries, had struggled to time the ball on a sluggish surface, and his wicket was greeted with predictably animated celebrations among the Northamptonshire fielders, who were only too aware of its potential significance.
Yorkshire, who showed one change to the team that beat Lancashire by five wickets, with pace bowler Patterson replacing the rested Jack Brooks, slipped to 38-2 in the sixth over when Gale was caught behind off Azharullah. The Yorkshire captain was deceived by a delivery that seemed to stick in the pitch, having scored 17 from 13 balls with three fours.
Yorkshire were 43-2 at the end of the six-over powerplay, whereupon Alex Lees and Bairstow played with commendable common sense during a third-wicket stand of 53 in six overs.
Lees, who bats in classical manner in T20 cricket, and yet in no less destructive a manner than anyone else, played some lovely off-drives before he fell with the total on 91 in the 12th over, chipping the off-spin of Matthew Spriegel to Kyle Coezter at short extra cover after making 35 from 28 balls with three fours.
Bairstow, circumspect at first, grew in stature as he instinctively changed the tempo of the contest.Successive leg-side fours off Spriegel seemed to free up his arms, and it was not long before he was launching the left-arm pace of David Willey for a straight six into the Lynn Wilson Centre End.
Lyth joined in the fun when he pulled Azharullah for six and was a fine foil for Bairstow, who reached his half century from 33 balls.
The wicketkeeper celebrated by striking another six off Willey, this time over long-on towards the pavilion, and with polished strokeplay Bairstow and Lyth took the score away in the closing stages. Yorkshire’s bowling effort began poorly when Tim Bresnan was clubbed for successive leg-side sixes by Levi off the final two balls of the third over.
But from the opening delivery of the fourth over, Willey holed out to deep mid-wicket off Patterson, who struck again four balls later when Coezter was brilliantly caught by a diving Robinson running in off the square-leg boundary.
Levi went to 50 from 30 balls with his third six, a fearsome straight blow off Adil Rashid, who will miss Monday’s County Championship match against Sussex at Arundel as his wife is due to give birth.
Rafiq, who will replace him in the squad, claimed the third wicket when he had Ben Duckett cleverly stumped by the lively Bairstow and then took the key one of Levi, deceived in the flight as he lobbed a simple catch to long-on.
Levi, who had hit successive straight sixes in Robinson’s first over, looked to be his side’s last hope, and so it proved.
David Sales and Steven Crook were bowled, Spriegel held at long-on, and Graeme White and Keogh caught in the offside.