Worcestershire Rapids are through to the knockout stages of the Metro Bank One Day Cup after a convincing eight-wicket victory over Sussex Sharks at sun-drenched New Road.
Another large crowd saw the Rapids triumph with 23.2 overs to spare, their sixth victory in eight matches in the 50-over tournament, to improve their net run rate.
It followed their success in qualifying from the group stages of the Vitality Blast in reaching the quarter-finals earlier in the summer.
But they will have to wait to see where they exactly finish in the top three of the One Day Cup as the group programme does not end until Tuesday (a quarter-final would be played on Sunday 27 August).
Worcestershire have won 14 of their 22 white ball games so far this summer, a major step forward after just four victories in total during the 2022 campaign.
They have produced some impressive cricket in all formats of the game and will also head into September in strong contention to gain promotion in the LV=Insurance County Championship.
Once again, Dillon Pennington and Matthew Waite set a positive tone by making inroads during the initial ten over powerplay.
Spinner Josh Baker continued his resurgence in form with another three wickets to take his tally to 15 in the tournament.
Logan van Beek and Joe Leach also ensured there was no let-up in Worcestershire’s position of strength with the ball.
Gareth Roderick (41) and Azhar (74) laid the platform for the run chase with a stand of 82 and then Kashif Ali raced to a 26 ball half century.
Worcestershire made two changes from the side which triumphed against Derbyshire at the Incora County Ground on Friday with Azhar and van Beek replacing Ed Pollock and Pat Brown.
Sussex handed debuts to a pair of 19-year-olds in batter Zak Lion-Cachet and off-spinner Bertie Foreman.
Sharks captain Tom Haines opted to bat first and his side quickly ran into trouble on the same wicket as which Worcestershire had been reduced to 25-5 in the powerplay against Warwickshire last Sunday.
Waite made the first breakthrough when Harrison Ward was lbw to a ball of full length, which swung back into his pads.
Pennington shared the new ball and he struck in successive overs.
Tom Alsop played down the wrong line to a ball which nipped away and was pouched at second slip by Baker.
The same combination then accounted for Haines after he drove at Pennington.
Sussex reached 42-3 by the end of the initial powerplay and James Coles and Liam Cachet led a partial recovery during a partnership of 42.
But Worcestershire captain Jake Libby broke the stand with a superb piece of fielding.
Coles played van Beek to mid-wicket and set off for a single but he was run out by Libby’s direct hit at the non-striker’s end with only one stump to aim at.
Baker came into the attack and quickly cemented Worcestershire’s position of strength with two wickets to take his tally in the tournament to 14.
Lion-Cachet (34) showed plenty of promise on his debut before making room to cut and being bowled via the bottom edge.
Charlie Tear then stepped back and chipped a straightforward catch to Rob Jones at extra cover.
Foreman (35) also created a favourable impression on his debut in adding 66 in 14.1 overs with Danial Ibrahim.
He eventually became Baker’s third victim when attempting a switch hit and being bowled behind his legs.
Ibrahim completed his half-century from 85 balls with five fours before the innings was wrapped up.
Van Beek had Ibrahim taken at deep square leg, and the Netherlands international struck again when Sean Hunt could only find the hands of mid off.
A second run out of the innings polished off proceedings when Brad Currie (0) failed to beat a Rob Jones direct hit from backward point, attempting a quick single.
Baker finished with 10-0-35-3, Pennington 8.5-0-44-2, Waite 8-0-33-1, Leach 10-1-40-0 and van Beek 9-2-34-2.
Azhar and Roderick were initially watchful in seeing off the new ball attack of Currie and Hunt but gradually started to accelerate.
A cover-drive for four by Roderick at Atkins’s expense brought up the 50 in the 13th over.
The stand was broken when Roderick (41) holed out to long on off Foreman.
But Azhar completed a 61 ball half century with six fours to sustain the momentum and he and Kashi plundered 93 in 8.3 overs.
Kashif, who had smashed 88 off 36 balls against Derbyshire on Friday, continued in the same big-hitting vein.
Azhar finally fell to a catch at long on off Ibrahim, but Kashif struck three sixes off Coles and finished the game with his fifth maximum in another devastating display of hitting.