Teenager Weatherhall delivers at the death to seal thrilling win for Steelbacks after Zaib heroics

Sikandar Raza and Saif Zaib played out an unbroken 79-run stand for the fifth wicket against Worcestershire RapidsSikandar Raza and Saif Zaib played out an unbroken 79-run stand for the fifth wicket against Worcestershire Rapids
Sikandar Raza and Saif Zaib played out an unbroken 79-run stand for the fifth wicket against Worcestershire Rapids
Saif Zaib produced a brilliant all-round performance and Raphy Weatherall a final over of the highest quality to inspire Northants Steelbacks to a thrilling six-run Vitality Blast win over Worcestershire Rapids at the County Ground.

Zaib shone with bat and ball under the Friday night lights at Wantage Road, as the Steelbacks made it three wins out of four North Group matches – but they made hard work of it.

The Steelbacks looked to be cruising to victory as Rapids were reduced to 120 for eight in the 16th over, chasing 170 to win.

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But a stunning counter-attack from Gareth Roderick turned the game on its head, as 31 runs were plundered off the 18th and 19th overs bowled by Ben Sanderson and David Willey.

Sikandar Raza hits out in his innings against the Worcestershire RapidsSikandar Raza hits out in his innings against the Worcestershire Rapids
Sikandar Raza hits out in his innings against the Worcestershire Rapids

The South African inspired a Rapids fightback that saw them go into the final over needing just 11 to win.

Skipper Willey handed the to teenager Weatherall, who hadn’t bowled in the match, and he produced an over of the highest quality pace bowling to restrict the Rapids to just four runs – and also claim the wicket of Roderick and seal the victory!

Before that late drama, Zaib had earlier rescued his side from a precarious 90 for four as he hit 44 not out from just 21 balls, teaming up with Sikandar Raza (42 off 31) to boost the home side to 169 for four.

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The left-arm spinner then did the business with the ball, snaring three for 20 from his four overs, to seemingly set Northants on their way to the win, but in the end it was down to Weatherall who got the team over the line.

Ricardo Vasconcelos cracks a boundary during his innings of 28Ricardo Vasconcelos cracks a boundary during his innings of 28
Ricardo Vasconcelos cracks a boundary during his innings of 28

Northants made one change to the team that lost to Yorkshire on Sunday, with Weatherall replacing the injured George Scrimshaw.

As for the Rapids, they included former Steelbacks all-rounder Tom Taylor in their line-up, his first return to Wantage Road since leaving the club in the winter.

Skipper Willey won the toss and chose to bat, and by the end of the powerplay things were looking pretty good for the Steelbacks as they ended the sixth over 47 without loss.

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The highlight of the powerplay was two huge Matthew Breetzke sixes off success Shoaib Bashir deliveries - one of them ending up in the boardroom bar on the top tier of the pavilion!

Ricardo Vasconcelos is bowled by Hayden WalshRicardo Vasconcelos is bowled by Hayden Walsh
Ricardo Vasconcelos is bowled by Hayden Walsh

The introduction of leg-spinner Walsh stopped the Steelbacks charge in their tracks though.

Vasconcelos went in his first over, bowled as he missed a straight one going for a pull shot, and Bashir, who had been deposited over the ropes for a third time by Breetzke the previous ball, had the last laugh as the South African was caught on boundary attempting another one.

The Steelbacks were now 58 for two, and in the 10th over it got worse as Willey hammered Bashir straight down the throat of mid-off to go for three and leave the home side 63 for three.

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The spinners were strangling the Steelbacks batters, and although Walsh didn't get another wicket, his miserly spell of one for 17 from four overs was exceptional.

The last ball of the 14th over saw Ravi Bopara cloth an attempted drive straight to mid-off off Adam Finch and with just six overs to go the Steelbacks were struggling at 90 for four.

Enter Zaib, who played shots all around the ground in his brilliant innings, hitting two sixes and six fours, and in combination with Raza (42 off 31) lifted the Steelbacks to 169 for four.

The final over bowled by Nathan Smith saw Zaib hit two sixes and Raza one as 21 came from it - with 46 coming off the final three.

In all, the pair put on 79 from just 37 balls.

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Steelbacks needed a good start with the ball, and they got it when Zaib struck with his second ball in the third over, Brett D'Oliveira hitting the ball straight to Willey at mid-off to leave the visitors 14 for one.

Matthew Waite and Ed Pollock hit some nice shots as they moved the score to 34, but then both fell in the space of three balls, Pollock bowled by Willey who claimed his 300th T20 career wicket and Waite edging Ben Sanderson to Lewis McManus.

It meant Rapids closed the powerplay on 39 for three, and Steelbacks were well in the game.

Rapids responded by going on the attack and were looking ominous at 72 for three when Bopara grabbed a crucial wicket, a celever slower ball deceiving Ethan Brookes who was plumb lbw.

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Adam Hose was still looking a serious threat though as he moved on to 30 from just 20 balls, hitting two fours and two big sixes, but a stunning catch from Raza on the straight boundary brought his innings to an end.

Hose tried to hit Zaib for six, but Raza got round from mid-off and held on to a stunning diving effort just inches from the boundary rope and Rapids were 94 for five.

Things fell away pretty badly for the visitors from there, with wickets falling at regular intervals, including two in one over for Freddie Heldreich.

It looked like victory was in the bag, but Roderick had other ideas – although it all worked out well in the end!

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