Northamptonshire Steelbacks, having been left to pick up the pieces from a Joe Clarke century that was tantamount to an act of barbarity, fell 14 runs short as Notts Outlaws kickstarted their Vitality Blast campaign with a win at Wantage Road.
The Green and Golds’ opener carved, stroked and strutted his way to a Notts’ T20 record personal tally of 136 before, set a target of 215, Matthew Carter’s miserly spell kept the home side sufficiently in check the secure the victory spoils.
The Outlaws were out to protect a record of three successive T20 victories against the Steelbacks dating back to 2017 as Steven Mullaney won the toss and elected to bat first.
Despite losing his opening partner Alex Hales, caught at mid-off for 14, Clarke quickly found his form – blasting Ben Sanderson back over his head for a violent maximum and easing Notts to 50-1 at the conclusion of the six over powerplay.
The Outlaws’ reigning player of the tournament continued to ease through the gears, striking two further maximums and three fluent fours on his way to a 28-ball half-century, with Notts 98-1 at the halfway stage.
Peter Trego (24 off 21), so often a statesman of the centre stage, instead settled in as co-pilot to the flying Shropshireman as the pair posted 82 for the second wicket, before perishing caught in the deep off Graeme White with the score on 113-2 after 11.3 overs.
Tom Moores departed in a similar fashion for eight, albeit not before his imperious partner had walloped the former Notts left arm spinner for two further maximums in three balls, moving into the 90s and the Notts total to 141 inside 14 overs.
Clarke sailed to his second T20 century in Green and Gold in the grandest of manners with a six, his eighth of the innings, stroked regally back over Tom Taylor’s head.
The landmark arrived in just 49 balls and was celebrated by a beating off the chest, a kiss of the helmet and – true to form – three more consecutive maximums off Ben Sanderson.
The rampant right-hander had by now taken his tally beyond anything posted by a Notts batsman in T20 history.
And, although Mullaney was yorked by Wayne Parnell for seven, Clarke – caught off a Glover no-ball on 126 – ramped the South African left-armer over the keeper’s head to take the total to 204-4 with 11 deliveries still to go.
Parnell’s precocious caught and bowled to dismiss Samit Patel (11) felt wasted on the home side’s hapless situation. Lyndon James (1) picked out midwicket off the first delivery of the innings’ final over.
Two ball later, Clarke too was taking his leave having been caught at mid-off for a quite remarkable 136. He had faced 65 balls, hitting six fours and 11 sixes – the mainstay of an Outlaws’ total of 214-7.
Carter took his place at the heart of the action during the early stages of the run chase, deceiving and dismissing Richard Levi (1) with his inaugural delivery before holding a smart catch at midwicket as Ricardo Vasconcelos (12) perished to Luke Fletcher.
Jake Ball had Adam Rossington caught at mid-off for 22 as the home side’s powerplay ended with the score on 57-3.
And, after Josh Cobb and Rob Keogh (45 off 31) counter-attacked with intent to keep the Steelbacks in the contest with a fourth wicket stand of 104, it was the returning Carter that restored a sense of calm for Mullaney’s men.
The game’s 14th over, Carter’s third, cost just three. Keogh’s response was to hit out against Calvin Harrison and, with Peter Trego taking a crucial catch at deep midwicket, Northants were 147-4 needing 68 from the game’s final 30 balls.
Carter’s four over spell concluded with fine figures of 1-16 and Cobb’s resistance was ended on 62 by Fletcher as any realistic run-chase prospect was extinguished with 3.4 overs still to go.
Parnell and Taylor were each plucked in the deep f0r good measure off Ball, who finished with 3-58 as the Steelbacks innings closed on 200 for the loss of seven.
As so often is the case in T20 cricket, however, it had been a day for the batsmen – and, in this case, emphatically a day for Joseph Michael Clarke.
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