Northamptonshire 152 for 4 (Zaib 37*, Willey 31, Lynn 31) beat Derbyshire 151 for 6 (Madsen 57, Guest 49) by six wickets
David Willey's return to Northamptonshire as an all-action T20 Blast captain got off to winning ways at the third attempt with a hard-won six-wicket win at Derby with two overs to spare. Predictably, he was in the thick of it, backing up four tight overs and a boundary catch with a battling 31 from No. 3 that helped give Northants the base for victory. He is not about to be a shrinking violet.
Willey's elevation to the captaincy in his first season back with Northants was only officially announced shortly before the tournament, with Northants waiting for Royal Challengers Bangalore's elimination from IPL at the group stages, and it left the incumbent, Josh Cobb, "shocked and disappointed".
The word on the streets, however, had long been that Willey had been promised considerable authority at Northants once he walked out on Yorkshire in protest at the mass sacking of staff. It was not as much what was done as the way it was done that was at issue.
Willey comes in to his own on demanding days like these. For Derbyshire and Northamptonshire this was assuredly a working Bank Holiday, the sort of exacting surface that should have players claiming a day in lieu for the extra effort required, not to mention Mick Lynch calling a wildcat strike in protest and Amazon docking pay because the score wasn't mounting quickly enough.
That was encapsulated by Derbyshire's bowling Powerplay. They had leaked scores in the high 70s in their first two games so to restrict Northants to 29 for 1 was quite a change of tone. But it was all to no avail. They now have three defeats on the bounce and a repeat of last year's quarter-final appearance - at which point they imploded against Somerset at Taunton - does not look likely.
Northants, though, give Willey something to work with. His stand of 64 with Chris Lynn was growled and grimaced rather than purred, but they have a dangerous top six. The inclusion of left-arm legspinner Freddie Heldreich for the first time this season also gave them more variety with the ball.
Heldreich struck with his first delivery, bowling Anuj Dal who failed to hit him out of the ground, and did a decent job, even if Wayne Madsen did twice loft him over the ropes. A shoddy piece of fielding at fine leg, however, will not have to be repeated too often if he is to please his new taskmaster.
Derby was at its most inviting: a warm and sunny Bank Holiday, a tree-lined ground that belies its basic reputation of old, and a decent, convivial crowd. That local tastes would not be easily satisfied, however, was apparent when Derbyshire lost four wickets for 49 by the eighth over - Luis Reece and Haider Ali both failing with straight hits as the pitch revealed its true nature, and Leus du Plooy playing all around one from James Sales before Heldreich made his entrance.
Madsen and Brooke Guest responded with a knowing stand of 92 in 70 balls from a perilous position of 49 for 4 in the ninth. It never quite felt enough; it was just that because it was Madsen supervising affairs you felt that it might be.
Madsen assesses pitches as well as anybody around. Data experts could crunch thousands of statistics. Google pitch robots could take soil samples from the surface (it's only a matter of time). All the algorithms that money can buy (in Derbyshire's case about 50 quid's worth) could be put into use. Then when Madsen was informed that 175 would be a winning score, he would chew over the information before adjusting it to 151.
On this occasion, he malfunctioned: Derbyshire were conservative for too long. Madsen and Guest began steadily, were steady throughout the middle phase and, as the overs ran out, remained steady. The Steelbacks removed Madsen in the penultimate over when he pulled Taylor to deep midwicket and Guest fell in the final over when he lifted Andrew Tye into the hands of long on.
Northants might have dismissed Madsen when he had only a single to his name, Sales failing to produce the accurate throw needed after Reece rejected Madsen's call for a single into the off side. He was also dropped on 40 - the former Derbyshire seamer, Tom Taylor, being the luckless bowler when he clothed one to mid-on but Tye fumbled with an ungainly dive.
Although Northants lost Ricardo Vasconcelos early, pulling to short midwicket, Willey and Lynn old-manned them into a decent position. Derbyshire bowled with spirit, and when Reece removed both batters within three balls - Willey holing out at deep square; Lynn dragging on a wide one - they sensed an opportunity.
But Saif Zaib was reprieved on 14 by Zaman Khan as he slapped the left-arm spinner, Mark Watt, to the edge of the circle, and Northants made light work of a target of 44 from the last six as Zaib, a fine natural talent who has remained in bud for far too long, flowered with the most attractive innings of the day.