Bopara stars on debut as Steelbacks open Blast account with last-ball win over Falcons

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Ravi Bopara produced an excellent all-round performance on debut to secure a thrilling final ball five-wicket win over Derbyshire Falcons at the County Ground on Thursday.

The experienced former England all-rounder followed up an economical bowling performance with a superb 56 not out from 42 balls to steer the Steelbacks to 163 for five and home in their first North Group match of the season.

There were also crucial knocks from Ricardo Vasconcelos (42 from 31) and Sikandar Raza (38 from 27), it was left to Lewis McManus to keep his nerve to hit a four and a single from the final two balls to seal the victory.

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Earlier, Falcons had posted a competitive 162 for seven, with skipper David Willey and George Scrimshaw both claiming two wickets, and Bopara taking one for 21 from four tight overs.

David Willey celebrates the second of his two wickets against Derbyshire in style (Picture: Peter Short)David Willey celebrates the second of his two wickets against Derbyshire in style (Picture: Peter Short)
David Willey celebrates the second of his two wickets against Derbyshire in style (Picture: Peter Short)

It means the Steelbacks will travel to Trent Bridge in good heart for their second match of the campaign on Friday night.

It was a much-changed Steelbacks team from the 2023 campaign.

John Sadler handed Steelbacks T20 debuts to overseas duo Sikandar Raza and Matthew Breetzke, as well as winter signings Ravi Bopara, George Bartlett, George Scrimshaw and homegrown product Raphy Weatherall.

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Pace bowler Weatherall enjoyed a dream start to his Blast career, taking a wicket with his second ball as Harry Came clipped to Bartlett at short mid-wicket, reducing the Falcoms to seven for one in the second over.

Ravi Bopara claims a catch despite the close attention of team-mate Matthew Breetzke (Picture: Peter Short)Ravi Bopara claims a catch despite the close attention of team-mate Matthew Breetzke (Picture: Peter Short)
Ravi Bopara claims a catch despite the close attention of team-mate Matthew Breetzke (Picture: Peter Short)

From then on, things went awry for the rest of powerplay as Falcons powered their way to 61 for one, with Luis Reece and David Lloyd finding their range - the latter surviving a difficult chance as Raza spilled one running back, the ball just failing to stick.

Bopara made the breakthough in the next over though, Reece clubbing a pull straight to Raza at deep mid-wicket and it was 62 for two.

That saw the rate slow, and at the halfway Falcons were 84 for three, Lloyd departing for 41 as he got in a mess trying to reverse pull a Freddie Heldreich delivery and instead popped the ball up to Raza at point.

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The Falcons were now on the backfoot, with skipper Samit Patel perishing to Scrimhsaw to hand the fast bowler his first Steelbacks wicket as they slipped to 90 for four, and as they struggled to rebuild two wickets in two balls for Willey in the 15th over saw them 115 for six and in trouble.

The Steelbacks players celebrate Raphy Weatherall's first T20 wicket (Picture: Peter Short)The Steelbacks players celebrate Raphy Weatherall's first T20 wicket (Picture: Peter Short)
The Steelbacks players celebrate Raphy Weatherall's first T20 wicket (Picture: Peter Short)

When Scrimshaw clean bowled Wayne Madsen for 37 in the 17th, it looked like the Steelbacks were well in control with Derby 123 for seven, but the visitors rallied through Alex Thomson (22no from 17) and Zak Chappell (18no from 9).

Northants' efforts weren't helped by the fact they had to bowl the final 15 balls with an extra man inside the fielding ring due to their slow over-rate.

Pick of the bowlers for Northants was Willey with two for 17, while Bopara (1-21) and Heldreich (1-29) both enjoyed tidy four-over spells.

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Northants began their reply in reserved fashion, and were then hampered by the fact they lost the wickets of Breetzke for nine and Willey for one, both caught miss-timing shots.

Vasconcelos was looking in great form, and he saw them to 43 for two at the end of the powerplay.

The left-hander had looked imperious in moving to 42 not out from 30 balls, sending one Alex Thomson delivery out of the ground, but was then out attempting one big hit too many, cutting Pat Brown to deep point and the Steelbacks were 71 for three.

That brought together new signings Bopara and Raza together, and they found it tough going as the Falcons turned the screw in the middle overs.

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By the 15th over, and only on 104 for three, the Steelbacks knew they needed to up the pace, and Raza obliged as he hammered Brown high past the Spencer Pavilion and out of the ground off the first ball, and repeated the trick over the old scoreboard off the second.

But they didn't really capitalise on it as Falcons kept things tight.

A towering Bopara six off the final ball of the 17th over bowled by Blair Tickner left Northants needing 29 off 18 balls.

Raza's dismissal for 38 in the 18th kept things interesting, and going into the final two overs the target was 18 from 12 balls.

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Still the Steelbacks couldn't pull away though, and after Saif Zaib fell in the penultimate over just four runs were scored and it meant Steelbacks needed 14 off the final over.

The first ball was thrashed for six by Bopara, but a couple of miscues meant the equation was still five to win from the final two balls.

Lewis McManus, new to crease, hit the penultimate delivery for four and then, with whole field in, snatched the win with a single back over the bowler's head to win it and get the Steelbacks’ campaign off to the perfect start.

Teams

Steelbacks: Ricardo Vasconcelos, Matthew Breetzke, David Willey (c), Ravi Bopara, Sikandar Raza, Saif Zaib, Lewis McManus (wk), George Bartlett, Raphael Weatherall, George Scrimshaw, Freddie Heldreich

Derbyshire: Harry Came, Luis Reece, Wayne Madsen, David Lloyd, Brooke Guest (wk), Samit Patel (c), Ross Whiteley, Alex Thomson, Zak Chappell, Pat Brown, Blair Tickner

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