WORCESTERSHIRE Rapids' NatWest T20 Blast quarter-final hopes hang by a thread after a sixth North Group defeat of the season.

Ben Duckett made an unbeaten 92 off 54 balls as Blast title holders Northamptonshire Steelbacks stepped up their challenge with a 21-run win at New Road.

Duckett and Steven Crook thrashed 106 in the last 7.3 overs to lead Steelbacks to 195-4 and Rapids, after being up with the rate in the first half of their innings, were held to 171-6.

Northants got off to a flier at the expense of debutant George Scrimshaw.

Richard Levi pulled and drove two fours as well as punching a three through cover and the opening over cost 19 in all as Adam Rossington waded in with two boundaries.

Levi went for 18, playing across the line to John Hastings, and Rossington was looking for a sixth boundary when he departed for 26, a pull off Mitchell Santner picking out Alex Hepburn at deep mid-wicket.

Brett D’Oliveira then dragged the rate back still further in a straight-through stint of 2-27 in four overs.

Alex Wakely (10) was in a two minds when he checked a charge down the pitch only to be bowled by the leg-spinner and Rob Keogh (6) provided a straightforward lbw decision as he swept across a straight ball.

At 89-4 Steelbacks were in danger of losing their way but Duckett and Crook launched a withering response.

Duckett contented himself with half-a-dozen fours in reaching 50 in 39 balls but upped the pace when clearing the rope off Joe Leach and then pulling consecutive sixes off Hastings in the closing over.

The left-hander finished with nine fours and three sixes and Crook’s unbeaten 34 from 19 balls contained four fours and a six.

Rapids comfortably outscored Steelbacks through the six-over power play but only the overseas players Hastings and Santner sustained the chase for any length of time.

Hastings, fresh from a half-century in the win over Birmingham Bears on Friday, hit two sixes in romping to 35 from 19 balls but was then bowled by Richard Gleeson.

With Joe Clarke (0) and Ben Cox (10) falling cheaply Rapids looked to Santner for something substantial.

The Zealander delivered to an extent, making 38 until he was brilliantly caught by Saif Zaib on the mid-wicket boundary.

This was one of two wickets for Ben Sanderson and Mohammad Azharullah landed a double in dismissing D’Oliveira (18) and Ross Whiteley (12).

Daryl Mitchell (36 not out) and George Rhodes (17no) could only play out time in an unbroken half-century partnership for second-from-bottom Rapids who will most likely need to win all their last four games for any chance of qualification.