Ben Duckett continued his return to form with a mature 72, to guide Northamptonshire to their first win of the defence of the Natwest T20 Blast, chasing 162 to beat Durham and end their Chester-le-Street hoodoo.
In contrast to their recent success, the Steelbacks had lost their last four in the North East but Duckett superbly timed the chase, sharing a fourth wicket stand of 80 with skipper Alex Wakely, having ended well to restrict Durham to 162-7, Jack Burnham with a maiden T20 half century
Both fell, leaving 27 required from the final three overs. Rob Keogh’s cameo, an unbeaten 20 off 13 balls, saw them over the line with four balls to spare, Keogh hitting Usman Arshad for four just like he did to seal the Blast title at Edgbaston last August.
It was a second successive half century for Duckett to start the competition, having been moved up to open in T20 for the first time in absence of Richard Levi, and whilst he is still only 22, Duckett is become an experienced member of the side. His 48th T20 appearance showed that with a perfectly paced innings.
The scoops, or Duckscoops, and reverse sweeps were there, but played at the right moments, mixed in with being content to rotate the strike when required. Wakely provided a calm head at the other end, playing the support act as he does so well.
“It was important to get over the line,” he said. “That was par, just over par slightly.
“I thought we bowled extremely well at the end to get it back to that. I don’t think we bowled too well in the middle, but at the half way point we were fairly confident.
“I spoke to Wakers and knew it was crucial I was there near the end. It got a bit nervy, but I was confident we were always getting over the line, that was a great little knock [from Keogh].
“I’ve really enjoyed opening. I’ve said I really want to bat there and all I can do is score runs when I get the chance, but if I do go back to four when Rich [Levi] comes back it’s only going to strengthen our side.
“Believe it or not, I have matured slightly over the last couple of years. I’ve felt pretty good all year it’s just nice in the last couple of weeks to get some runs, but for me if I can keep contributing to wins I’ll be very happy.”
Both sides came into the contest on the back of opening night home defeats, Northants far from their best with the ball. Durham looked to be well placed on 126-3 from 15 overs, with Jack Burnham and Paul Collingwood well set, having added 53 from five overs.
The veteran Collingwood hit two sixes but, when he drove Tabriaz Shamsi to cover for 38, Durham lost 4-22, limping to 161-7. Burnham hit a further two boundaries as he finished on a maiden half century, 53, Rory Kleinveldt with 3-28 as the Jets stuttered towards the end.
Despite sweeping Chris Rushworth for six, Duckett was fairly subdued after losing Adam Rossington, and 96 runs were still needed when Josh Cobb holed out trying to pull over the long boundary, a trap Wakely would fall into as well.
But that was only after he provided the perfect support for Duckett in their stand, ensuring the rate never climbed and when 11 and 13 came from the 15th and 16th over respectively, the Steelbacks looked home and hosed with 30 needed from four overs.
Arshad produced a fine 17th, building pressure that forced a reverse sweep from Duckett that looped to Collingwood at point and, when Wakely fell in the next, Durham sniffed their chance.
Just like he did as Northants stuttered over the line in the final, Keogh proved the calm head, with a pair of boundaries to get the Champions campaign up and running. For Durham it already looks an uphill battle to reach the knock-out stages, two defeats meaning they remain on -4 points.
Duckett added: “We weren’t at our best [on Friday] but in this tournament we know it’s about getting it right at the right time.
“You never want to lose, and you don’t want to lose the first two, but we know if you get on a roll you can win a few on the bounce, we back ourselves to be in that top half of the table.”