Root swoops as Yorkshire break duck
Yorkshire 212 for 5 (Root 65, Miller 50) beat Worcestershire 183 for 6 (Hughes 80*, Starc 3-24) by 29 runs
Yorkshire reached their first T20 Finals Day with a 29-run win over Worcestershire, inspired by Joe Root's maiden Twenty20 half-century, not to mention an impudent piece of fielding on the deep midwicket boundary that brought a boisterous Headingley crowd to their feet. Root also opened the bowling - admittedly to slightly less spectacular effect - in a display that will have again given the England selectors a tug on the sleeve.
Phil Hughes' unorthodox power and placement helped keep Worcestershire in the game but his unbeaten 80 was not enough, as fellow Australia international Mitchell Starc returned to keep a lid on the final overs, finishing with 3 for 24 from his allocation. In the face-off between the tournament's leading run-scorer and its leading wicket-taker, Starc was the victor on points.
After Hampshire's dramatic victory over Nottinghamshire later on Wednesday, Yorkshire were drawn against big-hitting Sussex for what promises to be an explosive semi-final encounter between the North and South Group winners on August 25.
Worcestershire, who were also aiming to reach Finals Day for the first time, kept pace with the Yorkshire par score but were lacking the blast of nitrous oxide provided by the batting of David Miller and Gary Ballance, who hammered 82 from the last five overs earlier in the day. A similar power-up was not forthcoming from the visitors' middle order, despite forceful twenties from James Cameron and Gareth Andrew.
The former was sent on his way by Root - though his name won't appear on the scorecards. Having hoisted Rich Pyrah high into the outfield, Cameron may have been expecting to record his second six; but Root, running round from long-on, demonstrated quick-thinking to go with his quick feet, catching the ball, steadying himself in front of the rope and then tossing it back to Miller as his momentum took him out of bounds.
The third umpire was consulted, as a matter of course, but both Root and his team-mates knew he had pulled off a piece of fielding that is no less exhilarating now that T20 has made it a more common sight. "The cameras are here aren't they, so you've got to make it look good," Root said, over his on-pitch mic.
Root's contribution with the bat was even more important, if a little less showy. He is an accomplished strokeplayer in the classical mould, though he repeatedly turned to the reverse sweep in a largely unsuccessful attempt to show he could play the peacock too. Perhaps hitting three of his four first-class sixes in a superb innings of 222 not out at West End earlier this month has convinced him to broaden his batting horizons.
His runs were scored all around the wicket, though his first boundary came via an edge between keeper and slip. He could - possibly should - have been dismissed on 40, when a reverse dab against Brett D'Oliveira looped off the top edge to Andrew's left at short third man but the fielder went at it one-handed and only succeeded in fisting the ball to the boundary. Two overs later, Root drove Aneesh Kapil behind square to reach his fifty, from 36 balls, and he was in full flow against Worcestershire's England Under-19 allrounder, cutting, driving and pulling three more boundaries off successive deliveries before spooning a slog straight up to be caught and bowled.
Root, appropriately, had anchored Yorkshire, as Worcestershire chipped away early on. Yorkshire have twice broken the club record for opening stands in T20 this season but Andrew Gale and Phil Jaques combined to less sparkling effect in the first over of the innings, with the Australian run-out off a wide. Jack Shantry's delivery swung down the leg side, before deflecting away off the wicketkeeper Ben Scott's pads, and Jaques was three-quarters of the way down before it became apparent that Gale was not for haring.
The Yorkshire captain had missed a month of cricket with a hip injury, so was perhaps just feeling a bit ginger early on. After scoring three singles off his first eight balls, he crashed five fours off his next ten, taking 16 off a Shantry over before chipping Daryl Mitchell's extremely slow medium-pace back to the bowler. Worcestershire's captain also accounted for Jonny Bairstow, whose mighty bash wasn't quite mighty enough to clear long-on and at the halfway stage Yorkshire were 83 for 3, behind the rate on a good pitch.
Kapil's costly over, though it saw off Root, was the trigger for a run rush that saw Yorkshire pile on 104 from the last seven. Miller hit the first six of the innings from the last ball of the 16th over, slog-sweeping Moeen Ali into the stands, and Ballance cracked the next ball, from Shantry, over cover for six more. Miller then smacked sixes over long-on and long-off, before pulling a flat missile through midwicket for four more, progressing to a 23-ball fifty in the following over before miscuing a heave at David Lucas.
Shantry finished with 0 for 46 from three overs but Lucas, bowling the final over, was not to be spared either. A single off the first ball brought Ballance on strike, red-faced but cool at the crease, and he cleared the ropes four more times - a bottom-handed club over wide long-on; a flat swipe through midwicket; a stand-and-deliver punch down the ground; and a wristy flick over deep backward square leg - to lift Yorkshire to their highest total in this year's FLt20 and just one run shy of their best in T20.
Root, a slight 21-year-old, is not yet the man for such power-hitting but his all-round abilities meant he was given the new ball as Yorkshire started with an over off offspin. Root went for 10, though both of Moeen's boundaries - an inside edge past the stumps and a paddle past the diving Moin Ashraf at short fine leg - could have resulted in wickets. Starc then struck in the second over, Vikram Solanki pinned lbw despite the ball looking a touch high, to bring Hughes to the middle.
His first boundary was a six down the ground but a succession of partners could not match his efforts. As Root showed, it isn't over until it's over the rope - and neither could Worcestershire get over the line.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo