Azharullah heroics help Steelbacks see off Lightning
Muhammad Azharullah was the hero as Northants Steelbacks claimed a dramatic four-run win against Lancashire Lightning at the County Ground.
Lightning needed 14 runs from the final over to surpass the Steelbacks’ 169 for five, but Azharullah turned on the style to secure the victory.
The bowler kept it tight and, with Lightning needing five from the final ball, he took the catch to dismiss James Faulkner and seal the victory.
It meant Azharullah finished with figures of three for 28 and the Steelbacks continued their NatWest T20 Blast revival, claiming their third win in four games.
Josh Cobb, who superbly ran out Arron Lilley in the final over, had smashed 47 in the Steelbacks innings, with skipper Alex Wakely making an unbeaten 36.
Australian all-rounder Faulkner threatened to see Lightning home with a brilliant innings, but his 73 was not enough as Azharullah won the battle of wits.
Cobb gave the Steelbacks a decent platform early on, cracking fours for fun as he helped his side motor to 55 without loss from the six powerplay overs.
Richard Levi was also enjoying himself in the summer sun, but he was lucky to escape when dropped on 11.
And his good fortune eventually ran out after accruing another six runs as he was caught by Lilley off the bowling of Stephen Parry.
And there was to be a domino effect as Parry got rid of Cobb in the same over, trapping the opener LBW on 47.
The Steelbacks had smashed 50 runs without loss after five overs, but they got bogged down in the next five, losing two wickets for the addition of just 27 runs.
Ben Duckett and Wakely were the men charged with getting the home side back on track.
But Duckett only managed one four in an innings of 11 before he was dismissed by Steven Croft.
Lancashire were stifling the Steelbacks with relentless spin before Steven Crook decided to step on the accelerator.
The all-rounder smashed successive sixes off the bowling of Croft before eventually finding Tom Bailey at deep fine leg off the bowling of Faulkner.
Crook’s 27 was valuable as Wakely continued to tick along tidily at the other end.
Adam Rossington announced his arrival by flashing a couple of fours and a six off the bowling of Saqib Mahmood.
Faulkner turned the screw in the penultimate over, conceding just four runs before Wakely and Rossington took a liking to Bailey, both smashing him for six in the final over.
Rossington, who had hit 24 off just nine balls, eventually fell in his attempts to clear the ropes again, with Croft taking the catch.
Wakely ended on 36 as the Steelbacks finished their innings on 169 for five.
Lightning started steadily in reply, but they were to lose a wicket in the third over as a stunning catch from Graeme White on the boundary got rid of Ashwell Prince.
Rory Kleinveldt was the man with the wicket as the Steelbacks got the early breakthrough they wanted.
Liam Livingstone responded by lapping up a four and a six from the bowling of Olly Stone, but Steelbacks didn’t have to wait long for another wicket.
Azharullah came up with the goods, getting rid of Karl Brown for one in a superb maiden over.
Lightning were 37 for two after the powerplay and they were soon to lose Livingstone as the opener chipped it to Duckett off the bowling off Crook for 22.
The away side were losing their way, and losing wickets.
Captain Croft was the next to go as he was bowled by White for 14.
But Lightning could still call on the big-hitting Faulkner, and he wasted no time in rifling sixes off both Cobb and Kleinveldt.
Faulkner was giving his side real hope as he led the rebuilding mission.
Lightning needed 63 from the final five overs to win and Faulkner reached his 50 off just 27 balls.
Steelbacks thought they had the breakthrough they desperately wanted when Faulkner clubbed the ball to White, but Stone was deemed to have bowled a no ball.
Azharullah did get a wicket soon after, bowling Alex Davies, who had made a handy 34.
Lightning needed 24 from the final two overs and it was to be 14 from the final over after Kleinveldt bowled one that encompassed the dismissal of Jordan Clark.
Faulkner was on strike and he after failing to connect with Azharullah’s first ball, he flicked a ridiculous shot over the wicketkeeper for four.
Cobb ran out Lilley with a great long-range throw and the crowd, which was around 4,800 were revelling in the tension.
Chants of Azharullah went up around the ground as he bowled his final delivery and though Faulkner connected, he could only land the ball in the hands of the bowler to hand the Steelbacks a superb win.