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Willey the inspiration as Northants reach final

Northamptonshire 135 for 5 (Levi 63*, Rankin 2-20) beat Birmingham 131 for 6 (Javid 51*, Willey 3-30) by five wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

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Willey, Levi take Northants to NatWest Blast final

Yorkshire-bound allrounder David Willey showed he's still giving his all for his current county by leading them to a comfortable victory over Birmingham

If some at the ECB had their way, Northants would not be involved in NatWest Blast Finals Day. They are not big enough, not glamorous enough, not fashionable enough to be included among the eight city-based teams identified as suitable for attracting a new audience to the game. Some see their continuing existence as an annoying anachronism.

Yet, for the second time in three years, Northants find themselves in the final. For the second time in three years, they have provided a pleasing reminder that financial strength is not a necessary ingredient of on-field success and shown that the county system - for all its issues and imperfections - still has relevance and charm.

Despite their financial issues and despite the imminent departure of players, Northants defeated a Birmingham side who were the defending champions, had won 16 of their previous 20 T20 matches, and have a turnover three times the size of their opponent.

But there was nothing fortunate about this victory. Instead Northants won reward for an outstanding performance with the ball and then kept their nerve against a demanding Birmingham bowling attack.

There will be a bittersweet element to this for Northants supporters, though. One of the key architects of victory was David Willey, whose opening spell tore through the Birmingham top order, but who is set to leave for Yorkshire.

There is no animosity between Willey and the club. They understand that he must take every opportunity to develop and extend himself in the brief window open to professional sportsmen and he is grateful for the support he has been given at a club he has known all his life. Northants will continue to benefit financially from Willey's progress should he continue to represent England and they will take pride in his success, with Yorkshire and England.

But he did provide a reminder of what Northants will be missing with his new-ball spell. After trapping Varun Chopra, Birmingham's highest run-scorer in the competition this season, leg before with a lovely, inswinging yorker with the second delivery of his spell, he bowled William Porterfield with his next legitimate delivery - one that hit the off stump as Porterfield played for swing that never came - before he had Ian Bell, flirting outside off stump, caught behind in his next over.

By then Birmingham were reduced to 14 for 4 - Tim Ambrose had prodded a return catch back to the demanding Rory Kleinveldt in the previous over - and the game was effectively over as a contest.

There was no let-up from Northants. Olly Stone, exactly the sort of player who might be lost to the game without an 18-county system, bowled in excess of 90mph, while Shahid Afridi, who had not played for three weeks and only landed in the UK on Friday, delivered an immaculate spell.

Rikki Clarke and Ateeq Javid rebuilt for Birmingham with a stand of 93 in 15 overs. But, on a slightly truculent pitch where the ball did not come on to the bat quite as might have been expected, progress was rarely fluent. There were only two boundaries in the first 10 overs of the innings and seven in the entire innings and, while Laurie Evans, given little opportunity after coming to the crease with 10 balls left of the innings, helped thrash 18 from the final over (with two of the inning's three sixes), it was always likely to be too little too late. Birmingham had never defended such a low total; no side had in a full-length T20 at Edgbaston.

Victory was not quite as straightforward as it might have been, though. Jeetan Patel, in particular, bowled beautifully and Boyd Rankin bowled with good control. But with no margin for error, Birmingham could not afford a series of slips in the field that donated, in Chopra's estimation, as many as 10 runs.

Richard Levi deserves credit, too. The calm assurance with which he made his unbeaten 63 helped Northants cope with a mid-innings wobble - at 95 for 5, Birmingham saw a glimmer of opportunity - and, in partnership with the vastly experienced Afridi, he added 40 for the sixth wicket to take his side to victory with two overs remaining.

It might have been a disappointing result for the large number of local supporters but, for the neutral, or anyone arguing for a continuation of the 18-county competition that seems to exist in a permanent state of crisis, this was a heartening performance.

Northants 2nd innings Partnerships

WktRunsPlayers
1st27RE LeviDJ Willey
2nd40RE LeviJJ Cobb
3rd7RE LeviBM Duckett
4th6AG WakelyRE Levi
5th15SP CrookRE Levi
6th40Shahid AfridiRE Levi