Gloucestershire (114-3) beat Northants Steelbacks (113) by seven wickets
Gloucestershire powered into finals day for the first time in 13 years with the kind of commanding performance that was once their trademark in one day cricket.
It is a long time since Gloucestershire dominated one day finals to be billed the Manchester United of county cricket' by winning seven trophies in five years between 1999-2004, but if they continue like this then their first ever Twenty20 title could become a reality at the weekend, if the rain does not ruin the season finale at Edgbaston.
Northamptonshire were easily beaten, thumped inside 12 overs by Gloucestershire who won by seven wickets with 49 balls to spare. They controlled this quarter-final from the fifth ball of the match when they dismissed Northamptonshire’s most dangerous player, Ireland’s Paul Stirling who flogged World Cup winners England for a hundred earlier this summer.
A slow pitch that gripped on the ball, and a varied Gloucestershire attack taking pace off, limited the hitters in the Northants top four and a total of 113 was a long way short of being good enough against a side that won six games in a row to top the Central Group and have built a team well suited to T20 cricket.
Few would begrudge Gloucestershire their success if they were to go on and win the title.
On the eve of this match two players talked movingly of the help they have received from the Professional Cricketers’ Association’s welfare programmes in recent years. One was spinner Tom Smith who lost his wife to cancer two years ago and the PCA has helped him with grief counselling and combining professional cricket with bringing up two young children on his own.
Smith went into the quarter-final as the leading T20 wicket taker this summer and whipped through a tidy four overs in this game as Gloucestershire built on their early wickets. Partnering Smith at the other was Benny Howell, a fine county T20 bowler, and Northants failed to decode his changes of pace. Howell too has been helped by the PCA with his ADHD struggles.
Howell’s three for 16 from four overs included potent hitters Adam Rossington and Josh Cobb, blunting Northamptonshire’s ambitions and they could not find a batsman to dig them out of trouble. Northants managed only seven boundaries in the innings, and went 14 overs without a four or six. A late flurry by Tom Taylor, who fired Northants into the last eight with a quick fifty in the final group game against Warwickshire, included two well hit sixes but it was never going to be enough.
Northamptonshire needed early wickets to have any hope but when Miles Hammond reverse swept the second ball of the innings for six, it was an ominous sign of intent. Freed by a low target, Gloucestershire did not have the same trouble timing the ball. It took them just 24 balls to match the number of boundaries Northants managed in their entire innings. Ryan Higgins struck four consecutive fours off Graeme White to finish off a fine victory, the team clapped off by a small band of home supporters who got round the ban on being able to attend games by owning one of the flats that overlooks the ground.
“We have put everything into this competition so to get to finals day means everything to us and we want to win it,” said Howell. “Come Saturday we will be ready. It is about being free when we are out there and it does not change for finals day.”