Nerves of Steel from Northants as they beat Bears in thriller
Rob Keogh was the Northants hero once again as he hit the winning runs from the final ball at Edgbaston on Friday night.
Keogh, who was the match-winner when the Steelbacks beat Durham in the NatWest T20 Blast final at Edgbaston last year, hit a four to seal a five-wicket win against Birmingham Bears.
It was too close for comfort for the champions, but they got the job done, successfully chasing down the Bears' 156 for four.
Josh Cobb, who hit 80 in last year's final, was again the top scorer for the Steelbacks, with 48, while Keogh finished unbeaten on 41 and Adam Rossington rifled a quickfire 34.
Earlier, the Steelbacks had pegged the Bears back after a strong start from Ian Bell (50) and Sam Hain (30).
Tabraiz Shamsi (2-24) and Graeme White (2-30) were the stars with the ball as the Bears limped over the line.
And the Steelbacks just had enough in reply as they secured their second win in four T20 matches this season.
The Steelbacks had won the toss and elected to field at Edgbaston, with David Ripley naming an unchanged side from the one that won at Durham last time out.
The Bears got off to a strong start, with Hain finding a few boundaries and captain Bell also contributing a couple.
There was a chance for the Steelbacks to get rid of Bell, but a tricky chance was dropped by White off the bowling of Richard Gleeson.
The Bears were still showing plenty of bite with the bat and Rory Kleinveldt's first two overs went for 24 runs.
The Steelbacks turned to the spin of Shamsi in the final over of the powerplay, but the result was the same, with the hosts piling on the runs to sit on after six overs.
But the away side finally had the breakthrough they craved when White was introduced, as the spinner struck first ball, having Hain caught by Kleinveldt for 30.
By slowing down the pace of delivery, the Steelbacks managed to slow down the run rate and suddenly the boundaries weren't flowing anywhere near as quickly.
Steven Crook contributed a very tight over, conceding just five runs from it to leave the Bears 78 for one at the halfway point.
But Bell hit a six off White to get things going again and Crook's second over proved far more costly than his first, with the Bears taking 16 runs from it to hit the hundred mark.
With eight overs to go and nine wickets remaining, the men in yellow looked set for a bright end to their innings.
But Shamsi soon picked up a vital wicket as Bell, who had just made his way to 50, passing the 2,000 runs mark in T20 cricket in the process, holed out to Ben Duckett.
And Colin de Grandhomme followed Bell back to the dugout quickly as Shamsi struck again, having the Bears batsman caught by Wakely.
Suddenly, the Steelbacks were on top and another wicket fell in the next over as White had Will Porterfield caught by Crook for 21.
The spinners had done their job superbly and Gleeson followed their work up with a tight 16th over that went for just three runs.
Dangerman Grant Elliott was lucky to get away with a wild swipe that just evaded his stumps and raced past wicketkeeper Rossington for four off Ben Sanderson.
The Bears lost all-rounder Rikki Clarke to a hand injury, meaning their stocks were depleted going into the final three overs on 130 for four.
The atmosphere had gone flat at Edgbaston, with the Bears now finding boundaries very hard to come by.
Gleeson had conceded just seven runs in the final two overs of his four-over spell and the Bears had stumbled to 139 for four with an over to go.
Kleinveldt had been expensive in his first two overs, but he was given the final six deliveries to try to make amends.
However, Aaron Thomason smashed him for two sixes as the Bears bagged 17 runs from the final over, leaving Kleinveldt with figures of none for 41 from his 18 deliveries.
The Steelbacks enjoyed a strong over of their own with the bat in reply, with Duckett and Rossington taking 11 from the first.
And Rossington was well and truly in the groove by the third over as he hammered 24 runs off the bowling of the beleaguered de Grandhomme.
But Duckett was to give the Bears some hope as he lofted a Jeetan Patel delivery high in the air and was caught by Bell for 13, cutting a frustrated figure as he headed off the field.
Spinner Patel was causing problems and he got Rossington LBW for 34 from the final ball of the powerplay to leave the Steelbacks 50 for two after six overs.
That brought Wakely to the crease as he renewed his partnership with Cobb, with the pair having put together a key stand that saw off Durham at Edgbaston in last year's final.
Cobb hit a couple of sixes as his side reached the halfway point on 83 for two and the Bears brought back Patel in a bid to get the breakthrough.
But Cobb refused to treat the New Zealand bowler with any respect, smashing a four and a huge six to keep the Steelbacks on track.
However, Wakely was to go in the next over, chipping the ball into the hands of of Bell as Oliver Hannon-Dalby grabbed a key wicket for the Bears.
Keogh was next in for the Steelbacks and he notched some nice boundaries to keep confidence high.
Cobb also continued to find the boundary, meaning the run chase started to turn into something of a cruise for the Steelbacks.
But the Bears suddenly started to tighten things up, increasing the nerves in the away dugout and Cobb was to go for 48 as he holed out off Hannon-Dalby.
Crook came in and a couple of wides from Thomason helped the Steelbacks cause.
But they still needed six runs from the final over and the Bears were to get a crucial wicket as Crook was caught on the boundary off Elliott.
That brought Kleinveldt to the middle with the Steelbacks needing five runs from the final four balls.
It was far too close for comfort now and after Keogh hit a two and a single, Kleinveldt was on strike for the first time with two runs needed.
Kleinveldt hit a single, meaning it was one run required from the final ball.
And Keogh once again kept his composure as he hit the ball for four to secure a fine victory for the champions.
Birmingham Bears: Hain, Bell (c), Porterfield, de Grandhomme, Elliott, Ambrose (wk), Clarke, Thomason, Patel, Rankin, Hannon-Dalby.
Steelbacks: Duckett, Rossington (wk), Cobb, Wakely (c), Keogh, Crook, Kleinveldt, White, Shamsi, Sanderson, Gleeson.