Northamptonshire 128 for 1 (Stirling 80*) beat Worcestershire 124 for 7 (Haynes 41) by nine wickets
Paul Stirling delivered a superb match-winning debut for Northamptonshire Steelbacks who overwhelmed Worcestershire Rapids by nine wickets in a Vitality Blast encounter at New Road.
Stirling had showed his awesome power earlier in the month when smashing 142 for Ireland in their ODI triumph over England at the Ageas Bowl. Today, the former Middlesex player made an impact with bat and initially the ball as the Rapids, winners of the competition if 2018 and runners-up last season, were well beaten at home.
Worcestershire did not come to terms with a sluggish pitch as the visitors used four slow bowlers to good effect in bowling 15 of the 20 overs and they limped to 124 for 7. Stirling picked up two wickets, including Rapids top-scorer Jack Haynes, while captain Josh Cobb, Graeme White and Saif Zaib were equally effective with the pace taken off the ball.
He then raced to 50 off 28 balls with some awesome striking and was given excellent support by Richard Levi during an opening stand of 107 in 12.4 overs. Stirling ended unbeaten on 80 from 48 balls with four sixes and nine fours as the Steelbacks galloped over the finishing line in just 15.1 overs.
It was in contrast to the struggle in the Worcestershire innings to force the pace with there being only one six and eight fours in the entire innings. Debutant Haynes, the England Under-19 player who has already made a favourable impression in the Bob Willis Trophy, was the exception to that rule, striking 41 off 27 balls.
The Steelbacks also backed up their bowlers with some sharp fielding and excellent catching and Stirling's boundary blitz ensured they had no alarms in reaching their modest target.
Ed Barnard captained Worcestershire for the first time and will lead the Rapids in all their Blast games where England allrounder Moeen Ali is unavailable. The Rapids were lacking Moeen and Pat Brown and Wayne Parnell from their successful attack of the past two seasons.
Jake Libby was handed his Blast debut for the Rapids in addition to Haynes, with Brandon Glover also making his first appearance for the Steelbacks in the competition alongside Stirling.
The Rapids were put into bat after Steelbacks captain Josh Cobb won the toss. Hamish Rutherford collected the first boundary from the first ball of the opening over from Cobb with a sweep around the corner, but it was his last scoring shot before he was caught off a leading edge at mid off from the bowling of Ben Sanderson.
Haynes looked in good touch and quickly moved into double figures with two boundaries in an over from Nathan Buck. Riki Wessels had a let-off on 13 when Buck spilled a chance at mid-on in Glover's first over, but it did not prove costly for the Steelbacks as in the same over he saw his leg stump broken in half with 50 on the board while looking for another boundary.
Haynes continued to impress, striking White for six over long off but his dismissal - well caught at deep mid wicket off Stirling - prompted a drop in the momentum of the Rapids innings. Stirling also trapped Brett D'Oliveira lbw and although Libby and Ben Cox tried to accelerate, the bowlers kept a firm grip on proceedings throughout the innings.
When Northamptonshire replied, Stirling quickly set them on the path to victory as Worcestershire persevered with pace during the Powerplay. He made room to deposit a delivery from Charlie Morris over the cover boundary and then welcomed Barnard's introduction into the attack by clearing the ropes at wide mid-on.
His half-century contained two sixes and eight fours and none of the Worcestershire attack could stem the flow of runs. Levi was the perfect ally before he lofted Pennington into the hands of Ross Whiteley at deep midwicket.
"[The pitch] was just a little bit slow as was expected," Stirling said. "It probably didn't have much drying time so we were quite fortunate to get out there bowling first. As a batter, to be able to see what happened over those first 20 overs and to adjust your game accordingly really helped us.
"The conditions certainly suited batting second today. There is a lot of flexibility in our attack. We've had a lot of seam options that we could have gone to and when we did they bowled really well. It's a really good sign that there are options like that for the captain going forward.
"From my point of view, I'm not going to change the gameplan too much so I'm going to keep being aggressive in the Powerplay and it's a good opportunity to score boundaries which were hard to come by today. It's a chance to try and take the game away from the opposition in the first six overs instead of taking the game deep."