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Flying start tossed away

Worcestershire tossed aside a golden opportunity to record their first Twenty20 Cup win of the summer and snuffed out any faint hopes of qualification for the quarter-finals after defeat by Northamptonshire last night.

An opening stand of 94 inside nine overs, between Graeme Hick and Lou Vincent, should have paved the way for Worcestershire to record their first victory of this season's tournament at the fourth attempt.

However, some excellent bowling from England Test spinner Monty Panesar turned the tide in favour of the hosts and Worcestershire were unable to accelerate in the final five overs when the pressure was at its highest.

Steve Rhodes' decision to leave Zaheer Khan out of the starting line-up was an indication of where his priorities lie, but they still should have beaten the Steelbacks.

It was a fact acknowledged by captain Vikram Solanki as he pondered another disappointing evening.

"We haven't got it right in Twenty20 cricket this season and it has been disappointing, the way it has gone so far," he lamented.

"We have set high standards in all other forms of cricket this year and we have plenty to play for in this tournament, even though it is a tough ask now for us to qualify for the last eight.

"They set us a challenging total but we didn't feel as though it was out of our grasp. Lou and Graeme played very well to put us in a good position, but we lost wickets at crucial times. We were unable to build a partnership to take us home."

The evening had begun positively for the Royals who started in brisk fashion with Kabir Ali proving particularly problematic for the Steelbacks' batsmen in terms of run scoring.

Uzman Afzaal's frustrations proved his undoing as he pulled Kabir to Daryl Mitchell at mid- on, who held onto a valuable catch.

At the end of five overs, with the hosts on 35 for one, Worcestershire were undoubtedly in the driving seat. They hadn't reckoned with Rob White, however.

The muscular batsmen had been drafted in for his first taste of Twenty20 cricket this year and he proved particularly brutal. He provided a feast of enterprising stroke-play, but Worcestershire should have stopped him before he was in his stride.

He hit Ray Price ferociously to Stephen Moore on the square-leg boundary but Moore spilled a relatively straightforward opportunity.

At that stage, White was on 15 and that dropped catch proved costly as he bludgeoned his way to 66 from 39 balls.

He shared in a 105-run stand with Sourav Ganguly that propelled the hosts onto a winning total. In fact, they could have taken the game away from Worcestershire were it not for an inspired catch by Kabir.

As White attempted to attack Vikram Solanki, Ali ran across the mid-wicket boundary to hold a stuning diving catch that split the partnership.

Ganguly was then run out for 73 after David Sales miscued a pull to Solanki at mid-wicket and his sharp throw to Gareth Batty accounted for the Indian Test star.

Sales and South African Lance Klusener continued with the assault, as Noprthamptonshire hit a total of 16 fours and 11 sixes in their innings of 190.

Yet, with small boundaries in use, the total was by no means insurmountable and Vincent and Hick started in cavalier fashion.

The latter reached his 50 off 26 balls and treated England spinner Panesar with disdain as he clubbed him regularly to the long-off boundary.

Yet Panesar had the last laugh as he bowled Hick for 55 (off 30 balls) before striking again with a peach of a delivery that spun past the outside edge of Vincent's bat to leave the visitors on 108 for two.

The New Zealander's innings of 40 (off 29 balls) had provided Worcestershire with the perfect platform, but a smart piece of glovework in the next over saw Rikki Wessels stump Ben Smith off the bowling of Ganguly and the tide appeared to be turning for the hosts.

That tide was soon unstoppable and with Ben Phillips and Jason Brown both taking wickets, Worcestershire fell well short in a match they should have won, despite a huge six off the penultimate ball from Roger Sillence.

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