Birmingham Bears kept their cool to edge past Northamptonshire and go top of the T20 Blast North group, winning by two runs off the final ball at Wantage Road.
The Steelbacks appeared to be in control chasing 173, needing 40 off the final five overs with seven wickets in hand. But Jeetan Patel and Aaron Thomason combined superbly at the death, Thomason’s yorker preventing Wakely getting the three required from the final delivery.
Colin de Grandhomme, who had earlier hit a 16 ball 37, removed Rob Keogh to break a 50 run stand and when Steven Crook came and went, 19-year-old Saif Zaib struggled in his maiden T20 innings, hitting 6 off 10 balls before holing out at the start of the 20th over.
With 13 still required, Wakely lifted Thomason’s second ball for a straight six, which took him to 50, but it was the Bears’ youngster who kept his nerve. The 20-year-old conceded four off the next three, before a final yorker that Wakely could only dig out. It sealed the victory for the visitors.
It means a fourth straight win for the Bears, with a washout in between, as they go above Yorkshire at the top of the North group. They are well placed to quailfy with 13 points from 10 games, whilst Northants remain fourth, three points back with an extra game to play.
“It was a bit of a gamble to bowl the kid [last over] but Aaron bowled a great over,” Bears’ captain Ian Bell said.
“Jeetan is always so solid for us. He’s been fantastic for a long time and he keeps producing the goods.
“Even Colin de Grandhomme, that little performance, his 37; he’ll either get nothing or do what he did today, which got us to a score that gave us a chance.
“This competition’s probably come at a good time for us. The guys have gone out there, found a bit of form and enjoyment.”
The hosts will feel this is one that got away, having got the chase off to a flyer. Richard Levi and Adam Rossington shared 58 inside four and half overs, as 21 came off Boyd Rankin in the second over, with five fours and a further 19 off de Grandhomme in the fourth.
That over included Levi pulling de Grandhomme, hitting the burger stall, and he went one better off Thomason as his pull landed straight into the bar. He would go next ball, though, as a yorker cannoned off his pad and onto the stumps for a 13 ball 33
Rossington and Ben Duckett kept the board ticking over, but Patel removed both with a crucial double strike in the ninth over. Rossington was caught on the midwicket boundary for 33, and next produced a beautiful ball to Duckett, which turned and hit the top of off, to remove the left hander for just nine.
A quiet spell followed but Wakely and Keogh, who have often proved the engine room of Northants’ middle order so far in this competition, looked to be in control. Wakely took three boundaries from the 15th, but the Bears would show their bite to fight back and down the defending Champions.
It was a gritty team display from the Bears, with no real indiviudal stand out. Thomason took home Sky’s man of the match award for his 2-35, but de Grandhomme apart, it was a batting display where several threatened but no-one would go on.
The New Zealander hit three sixes, and although six fellow Bears’ batsmen also cleared the ropes once, none did so more than once, Sam Hain’s 28 the next highest score.
Both openers made starts, but Ed Pollock skied a catch behind and Ian Bell, who uncharacteristically struggled on his way to 16 off 19, was bowled trying to reverse sweep Keogh as the Bears stuttered to 49-2 in the eighth.
Hain and Adam Hose, fresh off his stunning Bears debut last Sunday, looked to have got the innings back on track, but both fell in quick succession, Hose picking out midwicket after lifting Keogh for six, before Hain was run out in a mix-up with de Grandhomme.
De Grandhomme would make up for that, hitting Keogh over the ropes. Two more followed off Ben Sanderson, before pulling Nathan Buck to deep square leg. Buck alslo removed Elliott, bowled with a slower ball, before Keith Barker was six and out.
Patel added the final maximum to drag the Bears up to 172, a total that proved just enough.
“I thought we had the game under control,” Northants captain Alex Wakely admitted afterwards. “Just kept losing wickets at the wrong time.
“After the powerplay, we were very well set. It was one more hit but it was an exceptional one over.
“I think it was about par, as you saw in the powerplay it’s hard to contain and it’s all about the middle overs and they probably bowled better than we did tonight.”