For the third game running, Ben Stokes’ fireworks saw Durham to a Twenty20 Cup victory.
Perhaps the home side thought their bowlers had made life a bit too easy by restricting woeful Leicestershire to 119-7, but when the rain began to fall even more heavily than the wickets, the realisation suddenly dawned that Durham were in danger of throwing away what should have been an easy victory.
Comfortably behind on Duckworth Lewis after being reduced to 56-5, it was hardly the performance coach Geoff Cook needed as he watched from the stands in his recovery from a heart attack. But Stokes is in the sort of form where no score is too many.
Fresh from match-winning knocks of 72 not out and 46, plus two first-innings wickets, the burly all-rounder smashed 41 not out off 26 balls to see Durham home with two overs to spare.
Just as important was a cameo worth 24 not out from 15 deliveries by Gareth Breese.
“You know what you’re going to get with Breesey, he hits all around the park,” said Stokes. “He’s got an armoury of different shots I’ve never seen before.
“He hits the ball in different places to me and that gives the captain a lot to think about.”
Suddenly from being down and out in the competition, Durham will believe victory at home to Derbyshire on Sunday can put them in the knockout stages of the Twenty20 Cup.
If they get there, there is no question who they will have to thank.
“In the last three games it been a case of either hit out or we’re not going to win the games,” Stokes reflected. “You’ve just got to take that risk.
“It’s come off so if the situation comes around again on Sunday, I know I can do it again.
“I gave myself 10 balls to get in. You wouldn’t think there was time to get yourself in in Twenty20 cricket, but there definitely is.“
Once settled at the crease, Stokes came down the pitch to hit Shakib Al Hassan wide of long-on for six. Until then Durham’s only boundaries had been Scott Borthwick fours.
A full toss was pulled way over the electronic scoreboard, another into the new stand.
While Stokes traded in huge sixes, Breese relied on inventive fours, the best a reverse sweep and cleverly guided upper-cut. In the end it made the margin of victory as comfortable as it ought to have been after abysmal Leicestershire batting. Chris Rushworth found himself on a hat-trick from two balls wide of off-stump.
Josh Cobb came down the pitch at the first and managed only a top edge from his cross-batted shot, although it took a good catch by Breese, on the run and over his shoulder.
Fellow opener Greg Smith took a big swish at the next ball but succeeded only in feathering an inside edge. Joe Burns tried to flick Rushworth through legside and lost his off-stump. Leicestershire’s top three had gone for only 17 runs. The visitors would never recover, while Rushworth’s 3-19 was yet another career best.
Shakib helped a ball round the corner two deliveries into the sixth over for Leicestershire’s first boundary off the bat. If it looked like the start of an acceleration, it was not.
For the next 4.2 overs their runs came in singles and it would be the final delivery of the 16th over before the ball next crossed the ropes. Thakor’s 42 provided ballast and when he made space outside leg but still inside-edged a catch, Michael Thornley hit 11 off four of the five remaining balls.
Durham too got bogged down in the middle overs.
Borthwick’s very first ball produced a picture-book checked drive for four, but as he batted serenely the other end saw a constant procession of wickets.
Having played a gorgeous drive after shuffling down the pitch to Shakib it was a major disappointment Borthwick joined it without making a score of substance, picking out Burns at a wide mid-on to give Anthony Taylor the third of his four wickets. In truth, though, it just made life simpler for Stokes.
Meanwhile, fast bowler Mitchell Claydon wants to stay on at Kent, where he has been on loan.