Stirling enjoys a stunning Steelbacks debut as Rapids are routed at New Road

Paul Stirling made a stunning debut as the Northants Steelbacks got their Vitality T20 Blast campaign up and running in style with a nine-wicket New Road annihilation of Worcestershire Rapids on Saturday.
Paul Stirling hammered an unbeaten 80, and also claimed two wickets, as the Steelbacks hammered Worcestershire Rapids at New Road on SaturdayPaul Stirling hammered an unbeaten 80, and also claimed two wickets, as the Steelbacks hammered Worcestershire Rapids at New Road on Saturday
Paul Stirling hammered an unbeaten 80, and also claimed two wickets, as the Steelbacks hammered Worcestershire Rapids at New Road on Saturday

The Ireland international smashed a brutal 80 from just 48 balls to help the Steelbacks storm to their victory target of 125 to win with nine wickets and 29 balls to spare, having earlier claimed two wickets as the Rapids struggled to 124 for seven.

Stirling was part of an impressive Steelbacks spin bowling quartet, as he along with Josh Cobb, Graeme White and Saif Zaib bowled 15 of the 20 overs, claiming five for 85 between them.

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And where batting had looked so difficult for Worcestershire, Stirling and opening partner Richard Levi made it look so, so easy as the pair put on a blistering opening stand of 107 in 12.4 overs.

Stirling was very much the senior partner, hammering four sixes and nine fours in an innings full of powerful hits, with the pick of the bunch an extraordinary six over extra cover, the ball smashing into the electronic scoreboard.

He and Levi put on a record opening T20 stand for the Steelbacks of 107 inside 13 overs, surpassing the 103 scored by Niall O'Brien an Rob White back in 2008, before Levi was caught on the boundary for 33 from 34 balls.

Skipper Cobb joined Stirling to finish the job, and hit the winning runs as the Steelbacks coasted to 128 for one in the 16th over to make the most emphatic statement that they are going to be a team to be reckoned with in this year's blast.

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Cobb and head coach David Ripley will be delighted that the team pieced together such a strong all-round team performance, and the Rapids simply had no answers with bat or ball.

Richard Levi hit 33 from 34 ballsRichard Levi hit 33 from 34 balls
Richard Levi hit 33 from 34 balls

The Steelbacks sprang something of a surprise in their starting line-up, with Tom Sole and Saif Zaib getting the nod.

The young pair impressed in the Steelbacks' practice match win over Leicestershire last week, and skipper Cobb rewarded them with starts.

Ricardo Vasconcelos, Gareth Berg, Rob Keogh and Blessing Muzarabani were the players from the 15-man squad to be left out, meaning there were Steelbacks debuts for Stirling and pace bowler Brandon Glover.

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The selection also meant the Steelbacks gave themselves five spin options on a sticky surface at New Road, and that was to prove a shrewd move.

It was seamer Ben Sanderson who made the early breakthrough though, snaring the wicket of danger man Hamish Rutherford for just five.

The Kiwi opener misjudged a clip through mid-wicket, got a big leading edge and sent a lobbed catch to Nathan Buck at mid-off to leave the home side seven for one in the second over.

The Rapids were struggling to get the ball away, and although Jake Haynes hit Buck for successive fours in the fourth over, they were a below-par 38 for one after the opening six-over powerplay.

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With Cobb constantly rotating his bowlers, and making full use of his spin options, the Steelbacks always had control.

That eighth over signalled a debut T20 Blast over for fast bowler Glover, and although Buck immediately dropped Riki Wessels off him, the Netherlands international soon had his first wicket in Steelbacks colours - bowling Wessels with a full and straight delivery that snapped the leg stump in half!

Haynes was the only man looking dangerous, and in the ninth over hit a six and a four as White conceded 15 as the Rapids moved to 67 for two.

Haynes batted well for his 44, but tried his arm one time too often and slapped Stirling to Sole at mid-wicket, and when the Irishman then pinned Brett D'Olivera for five in the 13th over, the home side were up against it at 89 for four.

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They needed to a rush of runs in the closing overs but they couldn't get a grip of the Steelbacks' spin attack, and continued to lose wickets as well.

Jake Libby became a Cobb victim as he was caught in the deep by White, who then got his reward as he had Ross Whiteley caught by Stirling, before Ben Cox was dismissed by Zaib, picking out the impressively safe hands of Sole who made no mistake to snaffle the chance.

Glover came on to bowl the final over which went for just three runs, and that saw the Rapids end their innings of 121 for seven.

Stirling ended with two for 26, while Cobb claimed one for 17 from his four overs, White one for 27 from four and Zaib one for 20 from three.

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That total was never likely to be enough, and so it proved as Stirling and Levi ensured the Steelbacks cruised to victory and send out an ominous warning to the rest of the Central Group.

Ripley's men are quickly back in action as they host Somerset Sabres at the County ground in their enxt group game on Sunday (2pm start).

Scoreboard: Northants Steelbacks (128-1, Stirling 80no, Levi 33) beat Worcestershire Rapids (124-7, Stirling 2-26) by nine wickets.

Steelbacks 2 points, Rapids 0 points.