A spirited Northants Steelbacks fightback ended in late disappointment as Birmingham Bears claimed a final-ball five-wicket win at the County Ground.
Three wickets from Azharullah had dragged the Steelbacks back into a contest that looked set to produce a comfortable NatWest T20 Blast win for the Bears.
But four byes from the last delivery of the match ensured the champions would claim the victory, making it two defeats from as many games for the Steelbacks.
The home side had made their way to 146 for seven, with Richard Levi’s 58 the highlight.
But it wasn’t to be enough as William Porterfield, who made an unbeaten 55, helped to steer the Bears to victory.
Steelbacks head coach David Ripley had promised his team would be much better prepared for their opening home game in the competition following the 41-run defeat at Durham two weeks ago.
And Ripley’s men were to make a bright start with David Willey and, in particular, Levi providing a few fireworks early on, with the stands being peppered in Oliver Hannon-Dalby’s first two overs.
Willey was to survive a scare in the fifth over as he lofted one up in the air, only to see it dropped by Hannon-Dalby.
But the all-rounder’s reprieve was only to be temporary as, two balls later, Tom Lewis took the catch off the bowling of Recordo Gordon to dismiss Willey for 13.
Steelbacks were 47 for one at the end of the powerplay and Josh Cobb looked to move things on after making his way to the crease.
He was eventually stumped off the bowling of Jeetan Patel for 20 and Steelbacks lost another wicket soon after as Boyd Rankin’s first over yielded the wicket of Alex Wakely.
Rankin should have had another wicket when Levi found mid-on, but Ateeq Javid missed the chance to get rid of the big-hitting South African batsman.
Javid did make amends as he stepped up to bowl and dismissed Adam Rossington LBW.
That brought Pakistan legend Shahid Afridi to the crease, with his home debut being greeted with the biggest cheer of the night.
And Levi soon brought more applause as he reached his 50 from 39 balls.
But the Bears had bowled well and Gordon was to secure the scalp of Afridi as Laurie Evans took the catch at deep mid-wicket, dismissing the Pakistan all-rounder for 16.
The Steelbacks were starting to struggle and after Hannon-Dalby dismissed Levi for 58, Steven Crook fell to the same bowler in the same over.
That left Rob Keogh and Rory Kleinveldt with the responsibility of making the total a respectable one and they plundered 19 from the final two overs.
Bears were confident of chasing down the 147 needed for victory and the opening pair of Porterfield and Varun Chopra started in sturdy fashion.
But Chopra was undone by Kleinveldt, who forced the Bears skipper to nick the ball behind when on 16.
The game was in a bit of a lull when Northants next struck as Azharullah forced a mistake from Lewis, who departed with his team on 79 for two.
The Bears had eight overs to get the runs required, but Azharullah soon struck again, with a great catch from Rob Keogh bringing the end of Laurie Evans’ innnings.
Porterfield was helping his team home though, bringing up his half-century alongside Rikki Clarke.
But Clarke was to go before the end as Azharullah grabbed his third wicket of the night thanks to a good catch from Willey.
The Bears needed 14 from the final 12 deliveries and a tight Willey over gave the Steelbacks a chance, leaving the visitors needing nine from the final six deliveries to win.
Azharullah was the man given the responsbility, but two wides gave the Bears the edge.
Javid was run out with the scores tied and one ball remaining, leaving Porterfield to face the final delivery and with Rossington brought up to the stumps, a fizzing delivery flew through to the boundary to give the Bears the win.
Northants Steelbacks: Levi, Willey, Cobb, Wakely (c), Crook, Afridi, Rossington, Keogh, Kleinveldt, White, Azharullah.
Birmingham Bears: Chopra (c), Porterfield, Lewis, Ambrose, Clarke, Evans, Javid, Patel, Gordon, Hannon-Dalby, Rankin.