Northamptonshire’s death bowlers did the business again as the Steelbacks moved third in the Natwest t20 Blast North group with a three run victory, secured off the final ball against Derbyshire at Chesterfield.
Chasing a revised 144 from 18 overs, Wes Durston’s 60 looked to be guiding Derbyshire to a comfortable victory, but he fell with six overs remaining and Tom Poynton and Scott Elstone couldn’t get the visitors over the line, Azharullah defending nine off the final over, removing Elstone with the final delivery.
Earlier, Josh Cobb and Richard Levi put on 85 for Northants’ opening wicket, scoring 48 and 43 respectively before the visitors lost six wickets for 19 runs, with only a late rally from Steven Crook and Rob Keogh taking them to 155-6.
The win was Northants’ fourth in five games and takes them back into the top four, and although Cobb admitted it was far from the perfect performance, he was delighted to come away with the points.
“At this stage of the competition it was a massive game for us in terms of putting us in a very strong position going into the last four games,” he said. ” I thought we were pretty poor for a lot of it, but obviously to get the two points is what we came here for, so it doesn’t matter how you do it.
“I think we’ve had three close games leading into this, so that’s obviously held us in good stead. Azharullah at the end was excellent to hold his nerve the way he did and get us the two points.
“It wasn’t an easy wicket up front, we both gave ourselves a bit of a chance and we got us into a decent position. I think after that we might have gone too hard- we lost a lot of wickets and they squeezed us pretty well.
“I’ve batted at three a bit with Dave being here and when he’s not played I’ve opened so I’m not too bothered where I bat, but I’ve opened for a lot of my career so it’s nice to get back up there and set good platforms for the team and we’ve really got to be targeting that quarter-final as we’ve got a good enough side to get there and progress further.”
After a 90 minute delay between innings at Queen’s Park, Durston’s 60, which came off 39 balls with six fours and two sixes saw the hosts look in control of their Duckworth/Lewis adjusted target.
Hamish Rutherford shared 50 for the opening wicket inside six overs alongside Durston to get the chase off to a flyer, each hitting three fours in the powerplay, before Rutherford was brilliant caught by the running Josh Cobb at long-on off Graeme White for 20.
Chesney Hughes drove his first ball from Cobb straight to cover to dent the momentum, but Durston kept finding the boundary with regular ease, twice slog-sweeping the spinners for maximums as he reached a third 50 of the campaign in 32 balls.
With 53 needed off 42 balls and eight wickets in hand Derbyshire looked to be in control, but the game swung in two overs, as Wayne Madsen was caught and bowled by White, and Durston pulled Steven Crook straight to deep midwicket.
Suddenly the boundaries dried up as Elstone and Poynton were pegged back brilliantly in the final six overs, with only two fours coming off the bat, and the required rate rising until 16 were needed from 12.
Rory Kleinveldt found his yorkers as the penultimate over cost only seven, and Azharullah held his nerve, and with four needed from the final ball, Elstone was bowled.
Northants were behind for much of the game but their dominance of the final overs in each innings proved the difference, adding 50 from the last five to recover to 155-6 after a dramatic collapse threatened to derail their innings.
Cobb and Levi took their time to get going, with only 20 form the first four overs, but the pair soon found their feet, Levi with four fours and a six, while Cobb, having initially struggled, moved into the forties with three maximums.
The pair seemed to be setting the perfect platform with a stand of 85, but Levi’s dismissal, adjudged LBW by Shiv Thakor saw the innings fall apart, as Cobb followed in the next over, also LBW to Durston two short of successive half centuries.
Ben Duckett and Alex Wakely followed in quick succession before Wayne White sent down a double wicket maiden in the 15th over, removing both Adam Rossington, well caught at cover, and Rory Kleinveldt.
However, despite having slipped from 85-0 to 104-6, Crook and Keogh ensured Northants would reach the par total at Queen’s Park with a crucial partnership, adding exactly 50 in 30 deliveries, as 25 came from the final two overs to boost Northants to a total, that, thanks to their bowlers, would just be enough.