Birmingham Bears secured a home quarter final in the Natwest t20 Blast as they survived a late Northants onslaught to win by one run off the final ball at Edgbaston.
Chasing 155, Northants looked to be falling short with 23 required from the final over, but back to back sixes from Rory Kleinveldt weren’t enough as Alex Wakely couldn’t get the four required from the final ball, although he finished unbeaten on 51.
Earlier Birmingham captain Varun Chopra also made a half century, his 52 the cornerstone of the Bears innings as Brendan McCullum could only make 26 on his final home match at Edgbaston.
Northants captain Wakely was left to bemoan a second last ball defeat against the Bears in this season’s competition, and said his sides lack of partnerships had seen their chase fall short despite Kleinveldt’s unbeaten 29 off 11 balls.
“Rory came in and that was unbelievable striking on a wicket where pretty much no one else timed it all day,” Wakely said. “It was a pretty tricky wicket actually, it was hard to time the ball on it which shows how good Rory’s innings was.
“I’m still pretty upset about it, we got so close it’s the kind of game the top sides win when they shouldn’t and we nearly did that, could have made it a bit tougher for us to qualify now.
“I thought we did pretty well to restrict them to what we did, we could have maybe held out catches, if we’d have save four or five runs even but I thought they were about par.
“When we came out we lost wickets early and it is difficult to claw it back and we didn’t have the chance to build a partnership, if we’d have got a partnership a bit earlier we might have made it easier but full credit to the guys up there and Rory.”
Birmingham looked to have the game secure as Northants limped to 119/6 with two overs left and 36 still required as Oliver Hannon-Dalby took three wickets, with Recordo Gordon chipping in with two but Kleinveldt had other ideas.
The big South African hit Hannon-Dalby for four and six form the penultimate over, and send the first two balls of Gordon’s last over flying over the ropes to reduce the target to just 11 off four, but crucial he lost strike and Wakely was unable to get his side over the line.
That means Northants’ quest for a quarter-final place will go down to the final round of matches, where a win against Durham at Wantage Road would guarantee progress, while the Bears secured a home tie at Edgbaston in the last eight, as they look to reach finals day at home once more.
Brendon McCullum won’t be around for the knock-out stages and couldn’t treat the Edgbaston crowd to a final send off, hitting four boundaries before driving Steven Crook straight to Kleinveldt at point.
Chopra initially struggled to find his timing on a pitch that wasn’t quite as easy to score on as it first appeared, the captain scoring at less than a run a ball before hitting Graeme White for six and four consecutively in the 11th over.
However is innings provide the rock of the hosts score, with handy support coming from Tom Lewis (16), Laurie Evans (20) and Rikki Clarke (14), as Northants fielding let them down with both McCullum and Evans beneficiaries of dropped catches.
Although neither proved too costly they were the fine margins that took the Bears over the line, along with a late cameo from Aateq Jarvid and Jeetan Patel that saw the hosts score 21 from the final two overs.
Northants had only lost one of their previous nine games in the competition but the chase got off to a poor start as David Willey toe ended a catch to mid-on for just two off Hannon-Dalby.
Richard Levi twice flicked the same bowler over fine-leg for six, he then picked out Lewis at deep square leg to go for 15, and Ben Duckett was caught at mid-on off Gordon as the Steelbacks limped to 31-3 from six, Clarke not taking a wicket but only conceded only 16 runs from his four overs.
Josh Cobb rode his luck during his 20, a comical missed chance as two Bears fielders left a simple catch to each other, before being brilliant caught by McCullum only for his hand to touch the rope on landing.
He and Wakely added 30 to stabilise the innings but with the required rate soaring, Cobb picked out McCullum in the deep off Patel, and regular wickets fell as neither Crook or Adam Rossington could give Wakely, who played nicely in a similar anchor role to that played by Chopra, the support he needed.
That support eventually came from Kleinveldt, but it would prove to be in vain as the Steelbacks fell just short, and they now face a nervy Friday night while Birmingham can start making plans for their home quarter.