SAVAGE stroke play from David Miller and Gary Ballance, who thrashed 91 from 43 balls in a pulsating partnership, inspired Yorkshire to a 19-run win over arch rivals Lancashire and maintained their lead at the top of the North Group.
Miller, the 23-year-old South African, scored 54 from 30 balls with four fours and three sixes, while Ballance, the 22-year-old Zimbabwean, flailed 42 from 23 deliveries with six fours and a six.
Their fifth-wicket stand transformed the complexion of the game after Yorkshire had slipped to 84-4 in the 13th over after being sent into bat on an overcast evening.
Yorkshire scored 96 runs from that point to finish on 180-6, their highest total in 17 Twenty20 meetings between the sides, much to the delight of a crowd of 10,350.
In fading light, and with the electronic scoreboard shining through the gloom like a cinema projector, Lancashire made a spirited attempt to chase down the runs.
After a sluggish start, they were ahead of Yorkshire’s total from the fifth over of their reply up until the 17th over, at which point the home side kept their cool to close out the game.
Mitchell Starc, having conceded only three runs from his first two overs at the start of the innings, bowled two of the last three overs at the death, from which only a further 18 runs arrived.
It was not enough from a Lancashire perspective, the visitors finishing on 161-5 having earlier been squeezed by some splendid spin bowling from Yorkshire’s stand-in captain Azeem Rafiq, who returned 1-22 from four overs at a key point during the middle of the innings.
Not for the first time in the Twenty20 tournament this season, or, one suspects, the last, Yorkshire’s bowling and fielding was collectively impressive.
Starc, Rafiq and Moin Ashraf all took the eye, while the ground fielding was tidy and the catching excellent as Yorkshire claimed a fifth victory in seven group games.
But it was Miller and Ballance who provided the impetus, Miller and Ballance who made possible the win.
Lancashire simply had no answer to their assault as Yorkshire plundered 72 runs from the last five overs amid a flurry of fours and sixes.
Miller, who arrived at Yorkshire more with a promising reputation than a proven track record, has justified the decision to bring him on board.
This innings followed a match-winning 74 not out against Durham the previous week and means he has scored 199 runs in this year’s Twenty20 at 49.75.
Ballance, whose reputation in all forms of the game develops by the day, is another who combines poise and power.
His performance, watched by England selector James Whitaker, would have done his hopes of an England Lions call no harm.
There was no hint at the start of the match of the mayhem to come. Initially, Yorkshire’s batsmen struggled to time the ball as only 21 runs arrived from the first four overs, Adam Lyth an early casualty when he was well caught by Tom Smith diving forward at mid-on off Yasir Arafat.
Joe Root slapped a full toss from Lancashire captain Glen Chapple down the throat of Smith at deep square-leg as Yorkshire ended the first six overs of power play on 44-2.
Chapple leaked only 19 runs from his four overs at the start of the innings, and Yorkshire lost their third wicket on 60 in the 10th over when Jonny Bairstow – released from one-day international duty – skied Gary Keedy’s first delivery into the hands of long-off. Phil Jaques chipped in with 40 from 28 balls before his run-out brought together Miller and Ballance.
Jaques fell at the non-striker’s end after Miller drove Smith down the ground, Steven Croft swooping with a direct hit as the batsmen tried to steal a second run.
Jaques appeared less than delighted with the decision of Jeff Evans, the square-leg umpire, but all concerned with Yorkshire were soon smiling as Miller and Ballance started to cut loose.
Miller struck Smith for six over mid-wicket, reverse-swept Keedy for six and then brought up his fifty with a flat-batted maximum over cover off Arafat, whose return of 1-55 was Lancashire’s most expensive in Twenty20 cricket.
Ballance also hit Arafat for a six, this time over mid-wicket, as the visitors were made to look ragged.
Both Ballance and Miller perished in the final over: the former to a catch at mid-wicket, the latter to a run-out.
When Lancashire replied, Starc yorked Stephen Moore and Pyrah had Smith instinctively caught by Rafiq close-in at point after the batsman had blazed 33 from 18 balls. Croft and Karl Brown added 82 in 10 overs to raise Lancashire’s hopes before Brown was caught on the mid-wicket boundary for 46 from 35 deliveries.
Ashraf bowled Paul Horton in the penultimate over and Starc rounded things off by having Croft caught at mid-off for 56 from 49 balls.
Scorecard: Page 5.