Whiteley's assault sends Yorkshire kids packing
Worcestershire 191 for 6 (Whiteley 91*, Mitchell 49) beat Yorkshire 117 (D'Oliveira 3-29) by 74 runs
There are dangerous T20 hitters hidden away in the English county game who the major overseas T20 leagues do not know exist and who, for that matter, are barely known outside their native county. Ross Whiteley is a case in point. It was his unbeaten 91 from 35 deliveries with 11 sixes which swept Worcestershire into the quarter-finals of the NatWest T20 Blast and which ensured that Yorkshire were effectively eliminated with the sense of their own inadequacy running high.
Whiteley's assault set Yorkshire a formidable target of 192 on a sunlit night at Headingley, their death bowling once again wanting as they spilled 103 from the final seven overs. They never came close, defeated by 74 runs. It was quite a way to go. "There will be people watching who are bitterly disappointed," said Yorkshire's captain Andrew Gale. "Whiteley turned the game on its head. It is disappointing because so much preparation has gone into this pre-season."
Yorkshire have four players in England's Ashes squad, Aaron Finch is flying back to Australia with a broken foot and the overs of Ryan Sidebottom and Jack Brooks are being saved for the task of defending their Championship title. Possibly Tim Bresnan is being spared as well: he stands in the field in T20 matches but these days for reasons that have not been entirely explained - niggling injuries or the fact he goes for 11 an over? - he does not bowl his allocation.
Another star Australian, Glenn Maxwell, who barely plays in the Championship and so attunes himself with nets and golf - not necessarily in that order - has played one influential innings all season. He was out first ball, holing out against the leg breaks of Brett D'Oliveira and checking the bottom of his bat: a World Cup winner playing in what was a glorified developmental XI. It can't have been like that in the brochure.
Developmental XIs have their place and Yorkshire develop better than anybody. But Yorkshire had identified the NatWest T20 Blast as a priority, alongside the Championship this season. They installed floodlights, they banged the drum and crowds have risen by 20%.
Not many of those new spectators, their pride swollen by a Championship win, and a possibility of a second one, anticipated that the night they would be eliminated from the tournament would see them thrashed at home by such a margin with a defeatist batting collapse to follow the concession of a score probably 20 over par by an attack including four brittle teenagers having to learn their trade the hard way.
Yorkshire are bottom of the table - and a failure to qualify for the quarter-finals might well have been inevitable, so much were the odds stacked against them, but which they seem to have tacitly accepted before their time.
Whiteley was born in Sheffield, but he played his early county cricket at Derbyshire. "No slogging," he said of his innings. Just lots of balls disappearing into the crowd, mostly over the short side. His strike rate has now swollen to 176.87 and he tops Worcestershire's batting averages. That is heading towards Chris Gayle territory, even if he can't match his batting average of 328.
Another Yorkshireman smiling was Steve Rhodes, Worcestershire's coach. He has a well-drilled squad which has surprised many people in this tournament. Their third quarter-final in four years suggests that they are a side full of good habits.
At 63 for 4, Yorkshire's bowlers had their tails up, but Worcestershire stirred with a stand of 61 from six overs before Mitchell was bowled by Liam Plunkett for 49 from 45 balls, a measured innings that might have come to grief earlier, on 24, if Jonny Bairstow had not broken the stumps with his hip while trying to effect a run out.
Yorkshire's bowling attack bore the look of a developmental XI - and so did the approach of the captain, Andrew Gale, as he bowled them ahead of two international bowlers. Yorkshire chose four teenagers and they bowled 13 overs between them. How does Maxwell not complete his spell in this attack?
They gave T20 debuts to two 19-year-olds - the young left-arm spinner Karl Carver and medium pacer Ryan Gibson - and Will Rhodes was another T20 ingenue, veteran of five games. In such company, Matthew Fisher, at 17 but relatively proven, must have felt like a dispenser of wisdom.
Carver, who mixed up his pace confidently, and Rhodes, who as an allrounder looks to have something about him, would have been relieved to escape with 30 conceded, Carver with two top-order wickets as well, but Gibson, who was faced with a big ask as he was thrown the ball for the 16th over, felt the full force of Whiteley, conceding 19 in his first over as the ball disappeared over the short boundary into the West Stand.
The crowd disappeared about an hour later, grumbling as they went, and with good reason.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps