Steelbacks cruise to win
Northamptonshire booked their place in the Twenty20 Cup quarter-finals after rapid half-centuries from Rob White and David Sales eased them to victory over Midlands/Wales/West Division winners Gloucestershire at Bristol.
The hosts' innings of 154 for seven was dominated by Mark Hardinges, who made the most of being dropped four times to strike nine fours and four sixes in his career-best 94 not out.
But White and Sales then produced some equally spectacular strokeplay to hurry the Steelbacks to their target with eight wickets and 14 balls remaining.
White made 62 from 53 deliveries, with five fours and three sixes, while Sales hammered four fours and six sixes in his 30-ball innings of 68 not out.
Northamptonshire skipper Sales joined White in the middle after Sourav Ganguly had been stumped off Martyn Ball for 23 in the eighth over.
The pair hammered 87 off the next 10 overs and Sales took three successive sixes - the first one over long-on and the next two over midwicket - off Hardinges.
The partnership ended in the 18th over when White holed out to Chris Taylor at long-off from the bowling of Will Rudge. But Sales cracked the next ball to the midwicket boundary to complete the victory.
Earlier, after home captain Alex Gidman won the toss, Hardinges dominated the Gloucestershire innings to such an extent that no-one other batsman scored more than 10 runs or faced more than 11 deliveries.
Gloucestershire's hopes of a total approaching 200 disappeared with the dismissals of Craig Spearman, Ian Harvey, Taylor and Gidman inside seven overs - and with only 37 on the scoreboard.
Spearman mistimed a drive to mid-on off Matt Nicholson, Harvey clipped a delivery from Ben Phillips to midwicket, Taylor had his off-stump uprooted by Nicholson and Gidman was run out by Nicholson's throw from deep cover.
Hardinges forged partnerships of 43 with David Brown and 30 with Steve Adshead to revive the innings, but he was grateful to the generosity of the visitors' fielding for allowing him to surpass his previous best score in Twenty20 cricket - the 51 he made against Warwickshire at Edgbaston last week.
Phillips dropped him twice at long-off, when he had made 28 and 34, and Sales also failed to hold a chance on the midwicket boundary when he had made 39.
His fourth escape came when he was on 74, as Usman Afzaal could not grasp a catch on the long-on boundary from the bowling of Phillips.
Hardinges cashed in on his luck to surpass the best individual score made at the County Ground in the competition, namely the 92 made by Worcestershire captain Vikram Solanki on June 29 this season.
He took 18 off the last four balls of the innings from Lance Klusener and a straight six from the final delivery took him past Solanki's landmark. It was his fourth maximum in a 64-ball innings which also included nine fours.
While Hardinges struck the ball powerfully to all parts of the ground, three other Gloucestershire batsmen were dismissed.
Jason Brown had David Brown caught at long-on and Martyn Ball taken at mid-on, while Nicholson claimed his third wicket when Adshead was caught behind.