David Willey’s surprise comeback ended in success as the England star helped Northants Steelbacks secure a crucial six-wicket victory against Yorkshire Vikings.
Willey, who had not initially been named in the Northants squad, replaced Olly Stone in the team and was named man of the match after taking one for 24 and hitting an important 34.
It helped the Steelbacks get home as they chased down the Vikings’ 153 for seven with an over to spare, taking another huge step towards the NatWest T20 Blast quarter-finals.
Lancashire Lightning’s win at Birmingham Bears deprived David Ripley’s men of a guaranteed last-eight spot, but the Steelbacks are still sitting pretty with two games to go.
A strong bowling performance set them up for the win against the Vikings, who only really had 46 from Alex Lees to shout about.
Alex Wakely top scored in the Steelbacks reply as he hit 46, with Ben Duckett’s unbeaten 40 steering the home side to a vital two points.
While the Vikings had named a youthful side knowing their chances of reaching the quarter-finals were all but over, the Steelbacks fielded their strongest possible team.
Willey’s return from the ankle injury he sustained in a win at Worcestershire Rapids last month was a real boost, and he was to make an instant impact.
Opening the bowling, his fourth ball brought the end of Will Rhodes, who fired the ball into the safe hands of Duckett.
Just one leg bye was conceded from a fantastic first over and the Vikings were soon ruing the loss of another wicket in the third over.
Josh Cobb, at mid-on, brilliantly ran out Jack Leaning, who departed without putting anything on the scoreboard.
The Vikings were struggling and they could have been in even more trouble had Steelbacks skipper Wakely taken a couple of tough run-out chances.
The home side were turning the screw, putting pressure on their opponents.
And even England star Jonny Bairstow, who was captaining the Vikings for the first time, couldn’t steer his side through choppy waters.
He made just 21 before finding Duckett in the deep off the bowling of Cobb.
The Vikings just couldn’t get going as the Steelbacks strangled them, and next to go was Lees.
The opener lashed the ball back to bowler Graeme White, who juggled it before taking the catch.
Razorlight’s hit Before I Fall To Pieces was an apt accompaniment for the frustrated Lees’ exit from the field as the away side were struggling to put a total together.
Their plight was getting ever more precarious as Glenn Maxwell was dismissed just one ball after hitting a six off Steven Crook, with Willey taking the catch.
At 98 for five, the Vikings needed a big final five over to get up to a total they would be anywhere near satisfied with.
Liam Plunkett did his best, but he eventually went for 23 as Muhammad Azharullah smashed the ball into the stumps.
That left youngsters Ryan Gibson and Matthew Waite with the task of carrying the final few overs and the former made 18 before lofting the ball into the hands of Richard Levi.
Rory Kleinveldt was the man with the wicket, but his over had cost 16 runs and the Vikings were 142 for seven going into the final over.
The Vikings had given themselves something to defend as they plundered 11 runs from the last six deliveries and the Steelbacks would have to be secure in their chase.
But they decided to start in style, with Levi filling his boots early on.
The South African star ensured Plunkett’s second over cost a massive 25 runs as the Steelbacks motored to 33 without loss after three.
But Plunkett got his revenge in the field as a direct hit ran Levi out for 30 from 14 balls.
And the Vikings were soon celebrating again as Cobb went first ball, with Leaning taking a catch in the deep off the bowling of Ben Coad.
The Steelbacks needed some stability so they sent in the skipper, Wakely, to join Willey in the middle.
Wakley proceeded to produce what was asked of him, looking solid as well as contributing a few fours.
Meanwhile, Willey walloped a six before departing next ball as Matt Fisher dismissed him for 34.
With six overs to go, the Steelbacks needed a run a ball, with Wakely and Duckett doing the business.
Duckett pulled out a superb shot to flick a Plunkett delivery over the wicketkeeper to ease any tension that had started to build.
Wakely was to go before the end as he chipped one to Glenn Maxwell at mid-on from Fisher.
But Duckett showed his talent as he guided the Steelbacks to victory, hitting a four from the final ball to delight the sell-out crowd at the County Ground.