Nottinghamshire 169 for 2 (Hales 71*) beat Yorkshire 163 for 6 (Willey 51, Williamson 44, Lyth 44, Gurney 1-16) by eight wickets
Four years ago on a steamy Leeds evening Nottinghamshire Outlaws also derived great pleasure from arriving at Headingley and dumping Yorkshire out of the T20 Blast. The visitors' six-wicket victory on that occasion was achieved in a match that saw 401 runs scored and a host of sixes arcing into the Western Terrace. The top scorer was Alex Hales, who made 67; and four summers later, at a rather different stage in his life, here was Hales again, putting any troubles behind him, and making 71 not out as Nottinghamshire coasted home by eight wickets with an over to spare in one of the lower-key shoot-outs seen in this year's short-form competition.
But if Hales was a player common to both of Nottinghamshire's wins - his unbroken 71-run stand with the excellent Tom Moores induced a sense of resignation in the Yorkshire players quite early in the piece - most other things about this game were different to that 2014 match. For after six weeks of flat pitches and fine days the match to decide which of these teams qualified for the quarter-finals of the Vitality Blast was played under lowering skies and on a used wicket where the ball stuck in the surface. It was an evening when the Nottinghamshire bowlers wisely opted for cutters and one or two spectators even chose Bovril in preference to their normal beverage on a T20 night. Players in the dug-outs warmed themselves under towels. There were as many miscues as maximums.
The value of the spin bowlers was evident as early as the second ball of the game when Tom Kohler-Cadmore spooned a dolly catch to Steven Mullaney at midwicket off Nottinghamshire's T20 debutant, Matt Carter. The off-spinner's first over in the Blast cost four runs and his second only a single more. One immediately wondered why Yorkshire had selected no specialist spinners, opting instead to rely on five pace bowlers and Adam Lyth. In many respects the outcome of this strategy could have been predicted.
For all that David Willey later made 51 and Kane Williamson added an incurably cultivated 44 late in the piece, the tone of Yorkshire' innings was set in the first six overs. Whenever canny Nottinghamshire bowlers like Ish Sodhi or Luke Fletcher dug the ball into the pitch, the batsmen found it difficult to get the ball away. Dan Christian, the Outlaws' skipper, could even afford to give just one over to that classic purveyor of dibbly-dobblies, Steven Mullaney. It cost two runs and was later eclipsed by the variations and immaculate control of Harry Gurney, whose four overs went for a mere 16. Five different visiting bowlers took wickets but it was a game where the bowlers needed to do little more than frustrate the batsmen. Yorkshire's 163 never looked sufficient and its limitations were soon made apparent.
Riki Wessels clubbed 16 before he was bowled by Willey but Jake Libby then helped Hales take 58 runs off the six Powerplay overs, 17 more than Yorkshire had managed. The pair had taken their partnership to 82, albeit without ever extending themselves, before Adam Lyth had Libby stumped for 30 in the twelfth over. Lyth's emotions are rarely far from the surface and his roar of triumph could have been mistaken for a howl of defiant anguish. Moores joined Hales and the pair took a couple of overs to get established. Yorkshire's bowlers helped them by sending down a couple of wides - the fielders had earlier conceded four overthrows - and Nottinghamshire's batsmen gradually increased the run-rate.
Moores batted as coolly as his more experienced partner but allowed himself a late flourish when his two sixes off Willey ended the match. "We did alright with the bat on what was a tricky surface but when we tried to nail slower balls, we didn't nail it as well as they did," suggested Willey, which somewhat missed the point that Yorkshire's team selection as well as their execution had been awry from the first.
Hales, who hit only five fours and one six in his 56-ball innings, could look back on an evening of triumph and forward to a quarter-final at Taunton. No doubt he enjoyed the chance to play some cricket and it barely mattered that he had not been quite at his destructive best. "It has been a tough couple of months with all the stuff off the field but it was nice to get out there in a Notts shirt," he said.
No doubt it was but if Hales needs any reminder as to how privileged he is to be a professional cricketer he might do worse than glance again at that scorecard from four years ago. Nottinghamshire's victory that night was sealed by a fine unbeaten 35 by a batsman who was thought to have a bright future in the game. His name was James Taylor.