ON-TRIAL batsman Richard Oliver did his chances of landing a contract at New Road the world of good after his superb knock of 77 helped Worcestershire to an impressive victory over Northamptonshire in the T20 Blast.
The 24-year-old left-hander, who has recently captained Shropshire in the Minor Counties Championship, hit 77 runs in just 43 balls to help his side to a convincing five-wicket win against the reigning T20 champions – their second in a row after beating Nottinghamshire last week at Trent Bridge.
Scores of 43 and 34 in previous T20 matches matches against Durham and Lancashire respectively certainly showed him as a promising talent but he saved his best performance in a Worcestershire Rapids shirt in the club’s first home match of the season in the short form competition hitting nine fours and three sixes in the process.
Called up into the team after impressing in Worcestershire’s second eleven, there is no doubting Oliver has taken his chance as a blistering start with fellow opener Moeen Ali helped his side knock off what proved to be a simple run chase of 135.
Chasing that kind of total looked very unlikely earlier on when after winning the toss Northants, who beat Surrey last year to win their first ever T20 championship, looked set for a huge score following big hitting from opening pair Richard Levi and David Willey.
The pair put on opening stand of 56 until Willey, who made 4 sixes, departed after a good sharp catch from Daryl Mitchell off the bowling of Jack Shantry. Levi then fell in the ninth over when he was caught at the boundary by Chris Ruseell of the bowling of Ali.
The two wickets seemed to stem the visitors progress at a murky New Road and quick wickets from Saeed Ajmal (David Sales, 5) and Russell (Steven Crook, 8) began to apply the brakes with Worcestershire fighting back from the early onslaught.
From being 100-3 after 13 overs, Northants could only muster up a further 34 runs in the remaining seven overs after Russell picked up the wicket of Matthew Spreiegel (1) when he skied one to Mitchell and then ran out Kyle Coetzer for 31 from his own bowling.
And Worcestershire lived up to their new nickname in front of their own supporters as Oliver and Ali made a ‘rapid’ start after the interval.
Racing to 39-0 after three overs, Oliver smashed last season’s top T2o wicket taker Mohammad Azharullah to all parts in the fourth hitting two sixes and two fours in the space of five deliveries -which rocketed the score to 60-0 after just 24 balls.
Ali, who had been overlooked for England’s T20 and ODI squad for the home series against Sri Lanka, also looked in control and showed glimpses of what Peter Moores’ side were missing as he kept the scoring ticking and hitting the boundaries needed in the initial powerplay overs.
An opening stand of 93 came to an end in the ninth over when Graeme White dismissed Ali for 41 who was caught out deep by Spreigel.
But the wicket did not stop Oliver playing his attacking game – a six and a four in successive deliveries in the eleventh over accelerated his score and took the hosts closer to victory.
With the game almost over Worcestershire lost wickets as they looked to finish in style. James Middlebrook bowled Mitchell (6) and White picked up his second wicket dismissing New Zealander and home debutant Colin Munro for 8.
Oliver was handed the chance to complete a wonderful evening by hammering home the winning runs after Alexi Kervezee fell for just one but was bowled out by Crook for 77 after going for the big shot. But all-rounder Richard Whiteley finished off the job in the fifteenth over hitting a boundary over the Northants field.
The win lifted Worcestershire to fourth place in the North Group of this year’s T20 Blast after winning two out of their opening four games. The top four teams in the North and South Group earn a place in the quarter-finals.