IT was a case of “oh blast” rather than “blast-off” for Yorkshire as they lost their opening game in the new NatWest T20 Blast competition.
Defeat by three wickets to Northamptonshire was a disappointing way to start the revamped tournament, considering the strength of the Yorkshire team on show.
Although overseas star Aaron Finch was missing, with the Australian batsman still on Indian Premier League duty, Yorkshire had their full complement of England players available in the form of Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Tim Bresnan and Jonny Bairstow.
But Northamptonshire, who won the old Twenty20 Cup last year, belied their weaker state on paper to show they are not for nothing current holders, winning a dramatic contest with one ball to spare before a crowd of 5,417.
After deciding to bat on a warm, sunny evening, Yorkshire totalled 162-7.
It was a competitive score that owed much to a stand of 64 in 38 balls between Liam Plunkett, who top-scored with 36, and Bresnan, who made 34.
Their partnership – Yorkshire’s highest for the seventh-wicket in Twenty20 – ensured the bowlers had something to work with after the home team had been 99-6 after 15 overs.
Ian Butler, the New Zealand pace bowler, had stunted their progress on his way to 4-25, with Bairstow’s 24 the highest innings among a top-six that failed to sparkle.
In reply, Northamptonshire were given a flying start by David Willey, the 24-year-old left-hander, who struck 43.
Willey’s opening stand of 45 with Richard Levi gave the visitors a solid foundation, and although Yorkshire then took regular wickets, Ben Duckett kept his cool to steer the visitors home.
Duckett, a left-hander who was part of Yorkshire all-rounder Will Rhodes’s team at the England U-19 World Cup earlier this year, hit an unbeaten 39 that showed him to be a player of great talent and temperament.
Six of those runs came from a sweetly-timed maximum over long-off in the final over off Ryan Sidebottom, which swung the balance Northamptonshire’s way after they had needed 13 runs from the last six balls.
It was nip-and-tuck throughout; indeed, the crowd could hardly have wished for a game with more ebbs and flows.
After 15 overs of the Yorkshire innings, you thought the home team were out of it – only for Plunkett and Bresnan to pull it back. Then, at the start of the visitors’ innings, you thought the points would be heading home with them.
Good bowling from Plunkett and Rich Pyrah, however, who shared four wickets, seemed to have turned the match on its head. But young Duckett had the last word, leaving the Yorkshire players perhaps muttering something that rhymed with his surname as they sloped dejectedly off the field.
As was the case last year, when they finished bottom of the North Division, Yorkshire’s batting left room for improvement.
Despite a good pitch and a short boundary to the White Rose Stand, they were unable to build partnerships or plunder fours and sixes with frequency at Headingley.
Instead, they chugged along like an old car in need of a new exhaust.
They were not helped by a poor powerplay that left them 37-3 after six overs, Andrew Gale splicing to mid-off, Kane Williamson run-out by a direct hit from Willey at gully, and Root lbw as he tried to work to leg.
Ballance top-edged a sweep to short fine-leg with the total on 57, and although Bairstow showed his strength with a straight six off the left-arm spinner Graeme White, a promising stand with Adil Rashid was ended when Rashid picked out long-on with the score on 87.
Bairstow went lbw next ball, but Plunkett and Bresnan gave Yorkshire hope.
They rode their luck and showed their skill, surpassing Yorkshire’s previous best seventh-wicket T20 stand of 56 between Vic Craven and Richard Blakey at Chester-le-Street in 2004.
Plunkett was brilliantly caught at long-on by a diving Matthew Spriegel after striking six fours in his 22-ball innings.
Bresnan faced 21 balls and hit two fours and two sixes, Yorkshire’s total perhaps in the region of 15 runs short.
Jack Brooks held a magnificent skier at fine-leg to remove Levi and then ran out Kyle Coezter without facing with a direct hit from backward-point.
It dragged the game back again, Pyrah playing his part by having Willey held at long-off and pinning Steven Crook.
Sidebottom bowled Butler and ran out Spriegel, at which point you thought it was Yorkshire’s night.
But with two balls left and as many runs needed, White square-drove Sidebottom for the winning boundary.