England all-rounder David Willey powered Northamptonshire Steelbacks into the finals of the NatWest T20 Blast with the fastest hundred in the format by an English batsman against Sussex Sharks at Hove.
The left-handed all-rounder hit ten sixes, including five in an over from Mike Yardy, and seven fours in a 40-ball 100 that was also the second fastest in England in T20.
Willey’s sensational hitting ensured the Steelbacks made light work of a target of 166, reaching it with four overs and seven wickets in hand after they had restricted Sussex to 165 for 7.
Willey launched his onslaught in the third over when he took 18 off England teammate Chris Jordan, who was playing his first competitive game after two months out with a side strain.
Willey lost opening partner Richard Levi in the eighth over when Levi (24), who had struck Chris Liddle for two sixes in the previous over, was leg before to the first ball from leg-spinner Will Beer after they had put on 78.
But in the next over he launched his assault on Yardy, with five sixes all swung in an arc between long on and mid-wicket and all clearing the boundary by some distance. There was a boundary too as 34 were taken off the over.
We could have had fielders in the middle of Hove town centre and they might not have been near enough to catch some of his shots, when he got going we felt pretty powerless to be honest.Luke Wright
A tenth six, this time off Tymal Mills, took him to his first T20 hundred and he departed to a standing ovation from a full-house crowd of 6,000 after he was caught by George Bailey at wide mid-on off the next ball.
Ben Duckett (5) became Beer’s second victim in the 14th over but by then the 2013 winners were cruising to victory, which they sealed when skipper Alex Wakeley reverse-swept Beer for a boundary.
Sussex could have no complaints although halfway through their innings they looked on course for a total of 200 plus after being put into bat on a slow pitch.
Willey had removed Luke Wright, who had scored 564 runs in the competition for a duck but Chris Nash and Mahela Jayawardena both made half-centuries as Sussex reached 92 for 1 in the tenth over.
The turning point came when Josh Cobb took a sensational one-handed diving catch running around the fine leg boundary to remove Jayawardena for 50 from 32 balls, which included a six and nine fours.
Nash was leg before in the 13th over for 53, hitting across the line at Rory Kleinveldt who then picked up Craig Cachopa for 13.
As Sussex lost their way Cobb bowled five successive dot balls at Jordan in the 17th over as the hosts could only manage 71 from the last ten overs of their innings.
It was never going to be enough once Willey, targeting the short square boundary on the pavilion side and with a strong breeze at his back, got into his stride. Fully recovered after missing several weeks earlier in the season with an ankle ligament injury, he and his team will feel they have a great chance of repeating their 2013 success when they return to Edgbaston on August 29.
David Willey said: “It was a special evening for me and the team. I’ve had a rest after my (ankle ligament) injury to get myself in a good place and it paid off tonight.
“Josh Cobb’s catch to get rid of Mahela Jayawardena swung it our way and when I batted I used the wind and the short boundary to good effect.
“Sometimes the boundaries aren’t big enough if I get going and it was one of those innings when everything comes off. It was a fantastic night and I’m just chuffed to get us into another Finals Day. I’ve got fond memories of the last Finals Day in 2013, when I got a hat-trick, and we’re looking forward to going back. We’ve got a great crop of players and we fancy our chances of doing well again.”
Luke Wright (Sussex captain) said: “At halfway I thought we were in a good position but you have to say that David Willey’s innings was pretty special. We could have had fielders in the middle of Hove town centre and they might not have been near enough to catch some of his shots, when he got going we felt pretty powerless to be honest.
“It’s disappointing because we badly wanted to go back to Finals Day but I think we have a lot to be proud of this season in T20. After a couple of poor years by our standards we got to a quarter-final again but were beaten by a great bit of batting from David Willey.”
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