Willey seals Northants' first trophy since 1992
Northamptonshire 194 for 2 (Willey 60, Wakely 59*) beat Surrey 92 (Willey 4-9) by 102 runs
Northamptonshire claimed their first major trophy since 1992 by winning the Friends Life t20 with a thumping defeat of Surrey in the final at Edgbaston.
Having won just three of their last 27 T20s before this season, dating back to their quarter-final defeat in 2010, Northants went into the campaign as rank outsiders. But there was nothing fortunate about this success.
After winning seven of their 10 group games - by contrast, they won just one out of 10 in 2012 - they produced commanding performances in the quarter-final, semi-final and final against clubs which, on at least two of those three occasions, boasted significantly larger playing budgets.
Indeed, this final pitted Northants - one of the smaller counties with a turnover of around £3.4m a year - against Surrey, the undisputed financial giants of English cricket, with a turnover that was £23.8m last year.
But this was far more than a heartening tale of an underdog enjoying their moment in the sun. For so long a county sliding into irrelevance, Northants are providing a fine example of what can be achieved by smaller counties with sound financial management, astute coaching and a refusal to accept a place among the also-rans. Having changed their coach, captain and chief executive in the last 18 months, Northants have also changed the culture of their club. It is surely more than coincidence that David Ripley, who took over as coach in August 2012, was a member of the Northants side that won the NatWest Trophy in 1992.
Whereas Northants used to be a cosy club content with its own mediocrity playing in front of dwindling numbers of spectators in a weary ground, they are now a club demonstrating the enduring value of team spirit, unity of purpose, wise recruitment and the development of local talent. Here, in front of a fine-spirited crowd and on an excellent T20 surface, they played cricket bursting with confidence and joy, reflective of a side enjoying their game and each other's successes. Here they completely outplayed Surrey.
David Willey will, quite rightly, take the plaudits. A product of the club's own system - his father, Peter, was a stalwart of the club for two-and-a-half decades - Willey not only thrashed the fastest half-century of the season, but also claimed a hat-trick to finish the game. Aged 23, his form has recently won England Lions recognition and, with England looking for a left-arm seamer to replicate the role once performed by Ryan Sidebottom, it may not be too long before he goes a step further.
But this success was built around an innings that contained three half-centuries. After Willey, only opening the batting due to a wrist injury sustained by Kyle Coetzer in the semi-final, Cameron White and Alex Wakely added 107 in 56 balls to take Northants to the highest total in an English T20 final. Bearing in mind that the innings was reduced to 18 overs by rain and that is some achievement.
Northants actually started relatively sedately. Perhaps taken aback by Zafar Ansari opening the bowling with his left-arm spin, Northants scored only one off the first over and six off the second.
But a break for rain instilled new urgency. Willey, who scored only one from his first four balls, then thrashed 50 from his next 15 to reach a 19-ball half-century. It was a blitz that included 20 off one Jade Dernbach over - "I don't particularly like the bloke," Willey said by way of explanation, "he made an idiot of himself out there" - and 17 off another from Azhar Mahmood.
Even when Willey was out, slicing to deep cover, Wakely, the team captain and another product of the club's own system, took up the challenge, pulling strongly and reaching his 50 off 25 balls. While White was, initially at least, more cautious, he accelerated in the dying overs and completed his own 39-ball 50 with a six off the final ball of the innings.
Surrey's bowling wilted in the face of such an assault. Two international seamers conceded 108 in eight overs as Mahmood, so frugal in the semi-final, was plundered for 53 in four overs, while Dernbach, offering a variety of full-tosses and half-volleys in an oddly off-colour performance, went for 55. Perhaps the damp conditions rendered it tough to grip the ball, but it was a disappointing performance in the field from Surrey.
They never threatened to go close in pursuit. While Glenn Maxwell hit an aggressive 29, the required run-rate demanded greater risk-taking than Northants' well-disciplined attack would allow. Having stuttered to 70 for 4, Surrey lost their last six wickets for 22 runs including their final four without the addition of a run. In the end, it was a rout.
But, amid the rubble of a chastening defeat, Surrey should take some confidence from their journey to the final. After a grim 18-months, this was a step in the right direction and suggested that brighter days lie ahead.
This was a good day for English cricket, too. In front of a good-natured, full-house crowd and on a pitch ideal for such a high-profile encounter - full of runs and offering encouragement to good batsmen and good bowlers - it was a day that showcased talent and provided a fine advertisement for T20 cricket.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo