A brilliant innings of 84 by Ben Duckett and a superb all-round bowling performance saw Northants Steelbacks reach their second successive NatWest T20 Blast Final as they beat Notts Outlaws by eight runs in a pulsating semi-final at Edgbaston.
The County chose the perfect time to end a winless run against Notts that had stretched back 10 years, and will now face either Yorkshire or Durham in the final on Saturday night.
Duckett and Alex Wakely were the stars with the bat for Northants, rescuing their side from 15 for three to see them post a testing 161 for eight, and it ultimately proved too much for a star-studded Notts side that included England’s Alex Hales and Stuart Broad and West Indies ace Andre Russell.
Notts were also reduced to 15 for three as the County started brilliantly with the ball, and they chipped away with wickets throughout the innings as Notts ended short on 153 for nine, with Steven Crook claiming three for 28, Ben Sanderson two for 21 and Rory Kleinveldt two for 26.
After a lot of overnight and morning rain in Birmingham, skipper Wakely lost the toss, and the Steelbacks were not surprisingly asked to bat by Notts captain Dan Christian.
Northants made two changes to the team that lost to Surrey in the Royal London One Day Cup on Thursday, with Steven Crook replacing Rob Newton and Ben Sanderson coming in for the injured Richard Gleeson.
The County’s innings got off to a terrible start, with Adam Rossington being run out off the fourth ball of the match.
Rossington delayed taking off after a push into the covers by Richard Levi off the bowling of Russell, and the hesitation proved fatal as Dan Christian swooped to throw down the stumps with the Northants man a yard short.
That brought Josh Cobb to the crease, and he made an instant making of the most of a free hit as he hammered Harry Gurney for six, but his stay at the crease was to be short-lived one.
There was a hint of controversy about his dismissal though, with the umpire initially signalling wide after Gurney had strayed down the legside, but after the Notts players appealed for a catch behind, he changed his mind and sent Cobb on his way.
Things went from bad to worse in the third over when Levi missed a straight full toss from Russell to go leg before, leaving the Steelbacks reeling at 15 for three with three of their big guns back in the pavilion.
Skipper Wakely and Duckett faced a rebuilding job, and they took 13 off the fourth over bowled by Jake Ball- mainly thanks to two fortunate inside edge cut boundaries from Duckett.
The little left-hander hit Broad for two boundaries in the next over as Northants settled into the game, and although Ball conceded just two runs in his next over, the County ended the opening six-over powerplay on 47 for three.
In the ninth over Duckett decided it was time to up the tempo, with a reverse sweep off Samit Patel going for six.
He then hit the first three balls of the 10th over bowled by Steven Mullaney, and brought up his 50 with a single.
The County man’s half-century came off just 28 balls, and he hit seven fours and one six.
Duckett and Wakely continued to dominate the Notts bowlers, and took their partnership past the 100 mark in a brilliant 15th over that saw Patel get smashed for 20, the little left hander contributing a six and two fours.
The fun had to end at some point for the County, and it was brought to a halt in the next over when Duckett was bowled, Ball finding his leg stump with a full-length ball as the Northants man tried one ambitious ‘Duck scoop’ too many.
He walked off the field to a deserved standing ovation having made a brilliant 84 from just 47 balls, hitting 11 fours and two sixes.
His partnership with Wakely was a record one for Northants in T20, their 123 from 82 balls bettering the 110 scored by Rob White and Nicky Boje.
Duckett’s dismissal sparked a collapse.
Kleinveldt was promoted up the order to try and keep the boundaries coming, but he was out for a duck as he was caught on the boundary by Hales off the bowling of Russell, and the same combination did for Crook three balls later as the County stumbled from 138 for three to 141 for six.
The momentum of the innings had been halted, and when Rob Keogh was dismissed in the penultimate over the County were 151 for seven.
Skipper Wakely was still at the crease though, and he brought up his 50 in the final over with a straight hit back over Ball’s head, a shot which saw him bring up an excellent 50.
Wakely was run out off the second last ball of the innings for 53 from 45 balls, and the County closed on 161 for eight.
It certainly gave the Steelbacks attack something to bowl at, and having been 15 for three it was a good effort.
After a short delay for rain, the Steelbacks knew they needed to make early inroads into the powerful Notts batting line-up - and they did just that.
Sanderson was straight on target in the opening over, and when Michael Lumb tried to force the issue his sliced drive was brilliantly caught by a diving Crook at wide third man and Notts were four for one.
Things got even better a few balls later when Kleinveldt produced a snorting delivery to uproot England opener Hales’s stumps, and the Steelbacks were buzzing as the Outlaws were suddently five for two.
Another tight over from Sanderson kept the pressure on, and when Muhammad Azharullah tempted Outlaws skipper Christian to top edge a pull that was caught at short fine-leg by Cobb, the men from Trent Bridge were 15 for three - just like the Steelbacks had been.
Former Northants man Riki Wessels and Patel were tasked with rebuilding the innings, and they did so to reach the 37 for three at the end of the powerplay.
Wessels looked in excellent form and had eased to 24 when he attempted a switch-hit off the bowling of left-arm spinner Graeme White, and only succeeded in picking out Crook on the boundary who claimed the catch in front of the Hollis Stand.
Notts were now 45 for four and in trouble - enter the big-hitting Russell.
The big West Indian was flown back in by Notts especially for finals day, and he immediately took a liking to White’s bowling, smashing two sixes over cow corner.
A six and three fours followed in the next over from Azharullah, and the the momentum of the match had very quickly swung back in the Outlaws’ favour.
The Steelbacks needed something special, and it came in the form of a stunning catch on the mid-wicket boundary by Keogh.
Russell creamed a short ball from Kleinveldt and it looked to be heading for six, that is until Keogh dived full length to his right to snaffle the ball two-handed.
It was a brilliant effort, Russell had gone for 39 from just 18 balls, and the Outlaws were 92 for five, needing 70 to win from seven overs.
Northants were rejuvenated, and in the next over Notts were 92 for six, with Crook taking a smart caught and bowled after Patel had cracked the ball straight back at him head height.
Mullaney came in and looked good, but the ball after hitting Crook for six he picked out Duckett on the boundary, was gone for 10, and Notts were 108 for seven.
Chris Read and Broad set about getting their team back in the hunt, and although they led a charmed life - Read was dropped three times - they did so by hitting 34 off 23 balls and steered Notts to 141 for seven before Read chanced his arm one time too many, White taking the catch at deep mid-on and the Outlaws man was gone for 30.
Notts needed 21 off the final two overs.
Sanderson bowled the penultimate over and the first ball was hit for four by Broad, his lofted drive just evading a diving Kleinvedlt.
A couple of singles followed before Sanderson struck, having Broad caught behind by Rossington with a lifting delivery outside off stump.
Sanderson then bowled two dot balls, leaving Notts the task of scoring 15 from the final over, bowled by Azharullah.
Ball was facing, and failed to score from the first two balls.
The third went for a single, and the target was 14 from three balls, with Notts no.11 Gurney on strike.
A boundary via a fortuitous inside edge reduced that to 10 from two, but when Gurney only drove the next ball for a single that left Notts on 153 for nine and it was as good as game over.
And a dot ball from Azharullah’s final delivery sealed the deal.
Now bring on Yorkshire or Durham!