Azhar Ali defies hamstring injury to bring Worcestershire first win of campaign

Azhar Ali has happy memories of a 50-over cup final with Somerset in 2019 Getty Images

Worcestershire 257 for 4 (Azhar 130) beat Northamptonshire 248 for 4 (Young 104*, Vasconcelos 70) by six wickets (DLS method)

Azhar Ali led the charge with a commanding 130 off just 97 deliveries to help Worcestershire Rapids chase down a formidable target in this Royal London Cup clash against Northamptonshire at Wantage Road.

The Pakistan veteran defied a hamstring injury mid innings to put on a batting masterclass with 17 fours and one six, treating fans who had braved a rare cold day to some booming cover drives and shots over the infield as well as some sweetly timed strokes and scoops.

He shared an enterprising partnership worth 138 with rookie Taylor Cornall, who made the second half-century of his brief career to date. While Azhar fell with 29 runs still needed, Worcestershire crossed the line with four balls and six wickets to spare. The victory was the Rapid's first of this year's campaign.

For Northamptonshire, skipper Will Young struck a battling unbeaten 104 from 94 balls (six fours, three sixes) in bowler-friendly conditions to help his side post a competitive 248 for 4 despite two lengthy interruptions for rain which reduced the game to 39 overs a side. Young struggled to find his timing early in his innings against the seaming ball and reached the boundary just twice in his first 50 runs. He kept the scoreboard ticking though, bringing up his half-century from 72 balls, before putting his foot down and reaching three figures with two legside sixes in the final over of the innings.

Earlier, put into bat under under gloomy skies, Northamptonshire soon lost Emilio Gay lbw to Ben Gibbon and had advanced to 44 for 1 when the first break for rain came.

When they returned, Ricardo Vasconcelos played and missed against the seaming ball but soon started to locate the boundary, scoring the lion's share of an 84-run stand with Young. He smashed Dillon Pennington down the ground and played a sweetly timed late cut behind square off Joe Leach, but advanced to his half-century in less emphatic style, thanks to four overthrows. He looked well set for another big score after his century last week, playing a gorgeous on-drive off Ed Barnard and lifting the same bowler over the infield.

But Vasconcelos' knock of 70 ended soon afterwards when Adam Finch got one to jag back sharply and hit the top of the stumps. Worcestershire collected their third wicket in the next over thanks to a brilliant direct hit from the deep courtesy of Gibbon which accounted for Saif Zaib and left Northamptonshire on 108 for 3.

Young punched Leach down to backward point early in his innings, but did not locate the ropes again until he had reached 40. As he accelerated, he hit over mid-on and brought out the scoop shot in a partnership worth 114 with keeper Lewis McManus.

McManus looked scratchy early on, wafting outside off-stump to a ball from Finch past a diving slip. He grew in confidence swinging high over square leg for six to bring up the century partnership off 86 balls in the penultimate over. He dispatched Pennington's next two balls for four to reach his half-century from 47 balls before holing out in the deep.

That left Young to finish the innings in style with a four and two maximums off the final over. The blaze of boundaries saw 42 runs coming off the final 12 balls.

In the chase, Azhar took four boundaries off Jack White's opening spell and reached his half-century off 55 balls, finding a willing partner in Cornall who played some nicely timed drives mixed with aggression and innovation including an uppercut over the keeper.

Azhar offered one chance on 60 when a diving Sanderson put down a difficult chance in the deep but otherwise continued untroubled.

Brandon Glover made two crucial breakthroughs accounting first for Cornall who picked out mid-on after 83 balls at the crease. In Glover's next over Gareth Roderick fell scooping as McManus ran backwards and took the catch to leave Worcestershire on 157 for 2.

That was to be the last breakthrough for some time as Azhar and Jake Libby shared a stand of 68. Azhar had to call Roderick back as a runner after suffering a hamstring injury, but unleashed a string of boundaries, pulling and cutting before clipping off his toes to bring up his century from just 78 deliveries.

The pair saw off a typically tight spell from Ben Sanderson, but with six runs an over needed off the final six, Azhar finally fell when he pulled White to Vasconcelos who took a tumbling catch in the deep.

Barnard skied a catch off the final over off White, but with only one run required, it was scant late consolation for Northamptonshire.

WORCS 2nd innings Partnerships

1st138Azhar AliTR Cornall
2nd19Azhar AliGH Roderick
3rd68Azhar AliJD Libby
4th28JD LibbyEG Barnard
5th4OB CoxJD Libby