AT the start of July, Yorkshire’s T20 hopes looked dead in the water.
One win from seven games had left them bottom of the North Group and facing yet another season of failure in the game’s shortest format. Four wins from five matches later, however, and Alex Lees’s men are a side reborn.
A 49-run win over Durham sent them fifth in the table, level on points with Durham in the last quarter-final position with two games to play. What a transformation it has been.
Prior to the win over Lancashire on July 1, which kick-started the revival, Yorkshire had looked as poor in T20 as in most previous years. One of their biggest problems was an inability to clear the boundary and a general lack of composure with the bat.
To watch them on Wednesday night, however, was to see a side striking the ball with renewed confidence, conviction and clinical power.
After Lees won the toss on a hot and humid evening, with a crowd of 8,076 making the most of the mini-heatwave, Yorkshire scored 223-6 from their 20 overs.
It was their highest T20 total, beating the 213-7 they made against Worcestershire at Headingley six years ago, and it was founded on a fabulous innings from Adam Lyth, who made a competition career-best 87.
The left-handed opener is in purple form, having hit a double hundred against Surrey in the County Championship last week, which followed some particularly impressive contributions in the Royal London Cup.
And on a night when Yorkshire found the boundary no fewer than 31 times, striking 20 fours and 11 sixes, Lyth hit 11 of those fours and three of the sixes as he powered the hosts to a total well beyond the range of the visitors, who managed 174-8 in reply, Usman Arshad top-scoring with 43.
Lyth, whose previous T20 best was 78 against Derbyshire at Headingley in 2012, looked as though he was going to make Yorkshire’s fifth hundred in the format only to fall in the 17th over, caught on the long-off boundary off Chris Rushworth.
“I was really happy with the way I played, but a bit disappointed with the way I got out and not going on to make a hundred,” said Lyth. “Unfortunately, I just clothed the ball to the fielder, but I was really pleased to make a decent score, and there were a number of good contributions from my team-mates.”
Lyth was no doubt thinking of Travis Head, who struck 34 from 24 on his home debut; David Willey, who returned from illness to smash 32 from 14, and Jack Leaning, who savaged 32 from 11.
In prime batting conditions, Lyth and Willey gave Yorkshire a scintillating start with an opening stand of 64 in 4.4 overs.
Lyth injected impetus with three boundaries in the second over, bowled by Jamie Harrison, a feat emulated by Willey in the next over when Arshad was taken for successive offside fours and then straight driven for six towards the Football Stand.
When Willey sent the first of those boundaries scuttling along the ground through point, Vinny the Viking, the Yorkshire mascot, dived theatrically over the ball as it crossed the rope to great cheers from the sun-drenched North East Stand.
Willey was dropped on 21 by Phil Mustard off Rushworth, the wicketkeeper unable to cling on to a skier towarads square leg.
But Willey was not so lucky when he sliced off-spinner Ryan Pringle to mid-off, Michael Richardson taking the catch on a night when Durham spilled seven chances of varying difficulty.
Yorkshire ended the six-over powerplay on 77-1, Lyth enjoying a couple of reprieves before completing a 32-ball half-century, his third in T20.
Lyth and Head added 83 for the third-wicket inside nine overs before the Australian hit Harrison to long-on, leaving Yorkshire 165-3 in the 16th over.
Leaning – sent in ahead of Tim Bresnan and Liam Plunkett –hammered three leg-side sixes off Arshad and was dropped twice in a whirlwind innings. Arshad leaked 63 from his four overs, equalling the most conceded by a Durham bowler in the format.
After Bresnan conceded 17 from the first over of the Durham innings, the visitors were never in the hunt.
Forced into mistakes by fine bowling and fielding, plus an escalating run-rate, they lost wickets at regular intervals - five of them to spinners Karl Carver and Azeem Rafiq, who did a grand job, while Plunkett returned parsimonious figures of 1-13 from four.