Wednesday, August 17th, 2022


Azhar Ali scored a superb century and achieved his highest score in the Royal London Cup as Worcestershire Rapids defeated Northamptonshire Steelbacks by seven wickets under the Duckworth Lewis Method at the County Ground, Northampton.

The Pakistan star raced to three figures off just 78 balls when he clipped Brandon Glover off his legs for his 13th four, in addition to one six.

Azhar surpassed his previous highest Royal London Cup knock of 110 for Somerset against Essex three years ago.

He moved to within two runs of his career-best List A score of 132 not out for Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Ltd versus Lahore Blues in the National One Day Cup in Pakistan in January 2016, when he was brilliantly caught at deep mid wicket off Jack White.

His efforts played a massive part in the Rapids reaching their revised target of 254 in 39 overs with an over to spare.

Azhar’s knock was even more commendable as he required a runner (Gareth Roderick) after appearing to suffer a leg injury on 81.

He was given superb support by Taylor Cornall, who struck 61 during an opening partnership of 138 in 24.2 overs and captain Jake Libby helped him add 68 in eight overs.

Libby, a century-maker in the previous game against Derbyshire, hit the winning boundary off Brandon Glover to finish unbeaten on 31 with Ed Barnard 15 not out.

It enabled Worcestershire to secure their first win in the 2022 competition and provide a massive confidence boost.

Northamptonshire had scored 248-4, with Will Young scoring the first century of the game off 94 balls.

Worcestershire made one change from the side in action against Derbyshire on Sunday, with Roderick having recovered from a stomach bug and replacing Ed Pollock.

Barnard also resumed bowling after suffering a split finger when fielding against Yorkshire at Scarborough 10 days ago.

After winning the toss on an overcast morning, Libby opted to put the Steelbacks into bat.

Play got underway on time despite overnight rain and morning drizzle, with Joe Leach and Ben Gibbon sharing the new ball.

Leach bowled a testing opening spell in which he beat the bat several times.

Barnard at point got a hand to a stinging cut from Vasconcelos off Gibbon, which flew away to the boundary.

But Gibbon made the first breakthrough in the same over when Emilio Gay (7) went lbw to a delivery angled back in with 21 on the board.

Young then survived a confident lbw shout on two against Leach before the players left the field for light rain at 44-1 from nine overs at 11.40am.

Play was delayed for an hour and a quarter before play resumed, with the game reduced to 42 overs per side.

Northamptonshire started to accelerate, and Vasconcelos completed a 57 ball half-century with eight boundaries.

Leach came out of the attack after completing his nine-over spell on either side of the rain break.

Adam Finch, who had achieved career-best List A figures of 3-54 versus Derbyshire, came into the attack and struck in his second over.

He picked up the key wicket of Vasconcelos (70), who was deceived by a ball which nipped back in and was clean bowled at 106-2 in the 22nd over.

There was another breakthrough in the next over from Barnard when Saif Zaib was run out for nought.

He steered the all-rounder to third man and was short of his ground, attempting a second run by Gibbon’s direct hit.

Finch came close to claiming a second scalp when Lewis McManus on two edged just wide of slip and collected a fortuitous boundary.

There was another short stoppage for rain at 130-3 from 28 overs which led to a further reduction of three overs per side.

Young and McManus upped the tempo when play resumed during a partnership of 114 in 15 overs.

McManus completed a 48-ball half-century before he picked out Azhar at deep mid-wicket off Pennington in the penultimate over.

The final two overs yielded 42 runs, and Young reached three figures off the last ball of the innings when he pulled Finch for his third six. His 94-ball knock also contained nine fours.

The Rapids target was revised from 249 to 254 under the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method, and Azhar and Cornall gave the Rapids a flying start.

Azhar set the tone with the third ball of the innings from Jack White with a square cut for four.

Cornall produced a superb straight drive for four off the same over as runs flowed at a good rate.

Azhar produced all sorts of strokes at White’s expense with a clip off his legs, a cover drive after moving down the pitch and a back foot drive, all bringing him boundaries.

With Cornall also scoring at an excellent rate, the century opening stand came up in just 115 balls.

Azhar pulled Ben Sanderson for his seventh boundary to reach a 55-ball fifty, and Cornall followed him to the same mark from 76 balls with a single off Ben Sanderson.

The partnership was worth 138 when Glover struck in successive overs for the home side.

Cornall (61) picked out mid-on, and Roderick tried the ramp shot and only skied a comfortable catch to keeper McManus.

After Azhar’s injury, he continued to score freely before Vasconcelos pulled off a fine catch to end his magnificent show.

But Libby and Barnard hurried the Rapids to a deserved success.