There is life in the Northamptonshire Steelbacks’ Natwest t20 Blast campaign yet.
In a superb display of out-cricket, they managed to defend a seemingly under par score of 139-8 against the Birmingham Bears and their chances of making it to the quarter-finals, which wouldn’t have appeared great had the result gone against them, are far from over.
They are going to have to produce more of the same in their remaining five games, starting at Leicester tomorrow evening, but one step at a time.
And it was Graeme White who was the matchwinner for the home side as he hammered a quickfire 34, took a couple of wickets and rounded things off with an outstanding catch over his shoulder at midwicket to get rid of Ateeq Javid.
In the second half of the contest, David Willey got rid of Varun Chopra early on and the dangerous William Porterfield followed shortly after when Willey notched a direct hit at the striker’s end.
Jonathon Webb, who had called Porterfield through, scratched around before charging James Middlebrook and missing.
While Shoaib Malik and Rikki Clarke were at the wicket the Bears were still favourites and even at 60-3 with half of the overs remaining they had their noses in front.
But two wickets for White in the space of three balls, Clarke driving to extra cover and Laurie Evans walking in front, dragged the Steelbacks right back into the contest but with Malik in good touch and capable of comfortably hitting the ball out of the ground, it was up in the air.
And so it remained to the final over - isn’t that the whole point of this format? - which arrived with the visitors needing an unlikely 20.
Jeetan Patel hit a few decent boundaries but he couldn’t get on strike when he needed to and the task ended up being too tall an ask.
That the Steelbacks had anything to bowl at was down to White.
When he entered the fray, the score stood at a poorly-looking 90-7 in the 17th over but when he departed in the final over, he had thrashed 34 from just a dozen deliveries.
Three of these cleared the ropes with the first two, from successive Malik deliveries, coming as late as the 18th over.
Before that late injection, the hosts’ efforts, having been put into bat, weren’t particularly great with Kyle Coetzer’s turgid display summing up their lethargy.
The captain top scored with 40 but this occupied 46 balls which is the kind of rate that does more harm than good.
There were some mitigating circumstances in that wickets had been falling at regular intervals but boundaries, and not singles, are the currency that needs to be dealt in and with relatively short boundaries square of the wicket there just weren’t enough of the former.
It had started particularly badly as Richard Levi and Willey, the trump cards, had departed in the opening two overs and although loan signing Adam Rossington provided a glimpse of his ability, it didn’t last for long.
He was Patel’s first wicket and the off-spinner picked up two more as he applied the brake in the middle overs.
Neither Steven Crook or Ben Duckett could get going as they fell to Ateeq Javid and Patel respectively and when Middlebrook lofted Chris Wright to long-on it looked as though 120 would be the limit of the hosts’ ambitions.