Bairstow advances Yorkshire challenge
Yorkshire 181 for 3 (Bairstow 60*, Lyth 46*) beat Northamptonshire 165 for 9 (Levi 76) by 16 runs
Such is the unrelenting nature of the county schedule, sides can seldom manage to maintain the thrust to challenge on two, let alone three, fronts. It remains early days, but Yorkshire are formulating an effective formula to do just that. A victory at the home of the defending champions Northants, orchestrated by Jonny Bairstow's masterly half-century, moves them within touching distance of the North Group summit.
Playing resources at Headingley have been weakened by England calls, but on this evidence it has done little to enfeeble their ranks. They posted a formidable total and then had an abundance of conviction and resolve to suppress a bludgeoning innings from Richard Levi that threatened to single-handedly wrestle victory from them.
While attention was on Yorkshire's overseas opener, Aaron Finch, it was South-African Levi who wowed a near capacity Wantage Road with a cameo of typical disdain. His departure, for 76 off just 47, in the fourteenth over, however, attempting to launch Azeem Rafiq for his sixth maximum, brought about the type of reaction from Yorkshire that delineated a side with a real purpose.
While their bowling was steadfast, it was Yorkshire's endeavours with the bat that proved decisive. On a surface that made elaborate strokeplay and clean hitting a heavy task, the visitors lost both openers in their struggle to attune themselves before Bairstow took control in an unbroken stand of 90 in 8.3 overs with Adam Lyth.
From the first ball of his innings, the England international managed to surmount the difficulties of the pitch by doing the simple things that are so often overlooked in Twenty20. His running between the wickets alongside Alex Lees and then Lyth ran Northants ragged.
Having worked the ball around the vast outfield, continually keeping the scoreboard ticking, Bairstow demonstrated the full array of shots in his armoury. Successive boundaries off Azharullah in the eleventh over was a sign of things to come.
Finch's dismissal, caught at mid-on attempting to force one over the top, highlighted the sluggish nature of the pitch when pace was taken off the ball. But, having restricted the visitors to 100 off 13 overs with a couple of overs of spin, Bairstow released the shackles.
Levi's approach was vastly different but equally effective. He played a lone hand, however, and despite swatting deliveries to the ropes at regular junctures, the collective trumped the individual. Only Steven Crook, who clubbed a quickfire 23, managed to dictate to the Yorkshire bowlers in a similar fashion.
Azeem Rafiq was particularly impressive, not least because he dismissed Levi, but because he maintained a semblance of control at one end amid the carnage Levi was creating at the other. His departure left those below him with too much to do as the hosts wilted in the late evening warmth.
Northants' slogan this season is "Reign, Defend and Conquer" but their grip on the trophy they lifted last August is slowly slipping. They certainly are not showing the same pluckiness in the field.
David Willey, on his return to bowling, struggled for any rhythm and Crook apart, none of the bowlers were spared from Bairstow and Lyth's enterprise. The latter was unbeaten on 46 but he very much played subordinate to his partner at the other end.