A superb half-century from skipper Alex Wakely wasn’t enough for Northants Steelbacks as they were again beaten on the final ball by Birmingham Bears.
Wakley needed to hit a boundary from the last delivery, but Recordo Gordon managed to limit him to two as the Bears earned a one-run success in the NatWest T20 Blast clash at Edgbaston.
The Steelbacks, who lost on the final ball to the Bears at the County Ground at the end of May, had limited the champions to 154 for five.
Steven Crook took three for 30 as the home side’s captain, Varun Chopra, was the only one to get going, hitting 52 before Crook bowled him.
The Steelbacks’ reply started badly as they lost three key wickets in the powerplay, with David Willey, Richard Levi and Ben Duckett all departing cheaply.
But Wakely steadied the ship and with Rory Kleinveldt providing some late fireworks, David Ripley’s men still had a chance.
Kleinveldt ate into the 23 runs needed to win from the final over with a couple of sixes, but Wakely wasn’t able to complete the job as the Bears celebrated the victory.
It means the Steelbacks must now beat Durham Jets at the County Ground on Friday to guarantee a place in the quarter-finals.
But they can still qualify with a defeat if either Lancashire Lightning or Nottinghamshire Outlaws lose to Worcestershire Rapids or Leicestershire Foxes respectively.
The Steelbacks had headed to Edgbaston hoping to get the job done early, and the inclusion of Willey, who was not named in the initial squad, was a boost.
But the Bears got off to a good start thanks to some big-hitting from New Zealand star Brendan McCullum and some steady batting from Chopra.
Crook finally made the breakthrough after the Bears had racked up 57 runs as McCullum was caught by Kleinveldt.
Tom Lewis and Chopra also went to Crook as the Steelbacks continued to take wickets.
Laurie Evans was dismissed by Muhammad Azharullah, who bowled superbly in taking one for 24, and Rikki Clarke also departed before the end as Willey struck.
But the Bears had a par total and they looked likely to defend it comfortably when the Steelbacks lost early wickets.
Oliver Hannon-Dalby got rid of both Levi and Willey before Duckett was dismissed by Gordon.
Josh Cobb hit 20 alongside Wakely before being caught by McCullum and Crook also went before the Steelbacks reached three figures.
Adam Rossington tried to inject some urgency with 12 from 11 balls but when he went to Hannon-Dalby the game looked over.
Wakely and Kleinveldt had other ideas as they set about the Bears bowlers in the final two overs.
But despite 29 from 16 balls from South African star Kleinveldt and a valiant late effort from Wakely, the Bears squeezed home to secure a home quarter-final.
Birmingham Bears: Chopra (c), McCullum, Lewis, Clarke, Evans, Javid, Ambrose, Patel, Gordon, Hannon-Dalby, Poysden.
Northants Steelbacks: Levi, Willey, Cobb, Wakely (c), Duckett, Crook, Rossington, Keogh, Kleinveldt, White, Azharullah.