Yorkshire 166 for 6 (Williamson 65)beat Derbyshire 165 for 8 (Rutherford 44, Rashid 3-20) by one run
Yorkshire's NatWest Blast hopes still hang by a thread - and the margins are getting tighter. Five runs in a feverish Roses match against Lancashire, two runs - and a few doubts about that - against Warwickshire on Friday night and now the closest of all: victory by one run in a match that was Derbyshire's for the taking.
Twenty-five off the last three overs with six wickets intact made Derbyshire favourites, even allowing for a sluggish Derby pitch and slow outfield, but they contrived to lose four wickets in 10 balls for eight runs and, by the time Matt Critchley swung the last ball from Azeem Rafiq for six, the match was settled. Yorkshire go fifth, the return from England ODI duty of Adil Rashid, David Willey and Liam Plunkett reviving their optimism. Derbyshire, by losing by one run for the third time this season, are now as good as eliminated.
Kane Williamson is fighting fatigue, according to Yorkshire's director of cricket Martyn Moxon, but one of cricket's consummate professionals is not the sort to wear his responsibilities lightly. There are few greater loads to bear than energising Yorkshire's Twenty20 cricket, but he stood up to the challenge, his 65 from 45 balls the guiding force in Yorkshire's 166 for 6.
It has been a difficult season for all of Yorkshire's T20 batsmen with only Joe Root having passed 50 before Williamson's intervention. Alex Lees' own contribution on this occasion was a first-baller, caught at the wicket driving at Shiv Thakor, but his first season as Yorkshire's T20 captain remains alive and he will take sustenance from that.
Williamson will soon depart; the Australian Travis Head has just landed in England. In the NatWest Blast, players come and go so often the county grounds should have their own runway: another alternative perhaps to Heathrow expansion. Thanks to this victory, Head's involvement will at least have some relevance to it.
That Williamson's efforts almost came to naught owed much to a second-wicket stand of 73 in 49 balls for Derbyshire between two New Zealand compatriots, Hamish Rutherford and Neil Broom. Rutherford's six over extra cover against Willey, who is now contending with shin splints after only just recovering from a side strain, was as good as it got, and with Broom taking a fancy to Plunkett, Derbyshire were 76 for 1 off nine.
Rashid intervened in the nick of time, having Rutherford stumped attempting a slog sweep in his first over, and trapping Broom lbw at the start of his third. His return from England one-day duties will also steel Yorkshire's challenge and his control never wavered, Wayne Madsen outfoxed as he came down the wicket, a second stumping for Andrew Hodd delivering figures of 3 for 20.
Only briefly did Yorkshire feel confident. Two towering sixes by Chesney Hughes, with 17 off an over from Tim Bresnan, should have made it Derbyshire's game but when an outstanding catch at deep midwicket by Plunkett intercepted Jimmy Neesham's fast, flat pick-up, they still needed 13 off the last over.
That over was bowled by Rafiq - and thereby hung a tale. It was Derbyshire who almost signed him after he was released by Yorkshire, only for his action to waver ahead of the season while contractual negotiations were underway. His nerve held here - a yorker off his penultimate ball engineering a drive back by Critchley and the run out of Thakor - and Yorkshire look a better T20 side for having the option of bowling Rashid and Rafiq in tandem.
Gillespie was full of praise for Rafiq, who conceded only 28 from four overs. "It takes some nerve from a finger spinner to bowl in the powerplay and the last over of the innings," he said. "It shows how far he's come in such a short time. He's very relaxed, he's happy in his own skin and I can't tell you how happy I am to see him have that success after a challenging period for him."
Some will contend that Yorkshire were fortunate to enter the match still with hopes of a quarter-final place. Adam Lyth's acrobatic last-ball stop at long-on to complete an unexpected victory against Warwickshire at Headingley on Friday night was perilously near to the boundary according to some spectators with a close view. Yorkshire's supporters celebrated victory, but their reaction might have been more critical if the situation had been reversed.
Willey is another man Yorkshire are relying upon to bring fresh impetus to their last-eight challenge. Fourteen in three balls over long-on against Neesham, and 21 off in all off the over, gave Yorkshire's innings early stimulus, but even he was relatively restrained apart from that, finally dismissed for 33 from 28 balls when he lofted Wes Durston's offspin to long off.
From 42 for 0 off four overs, Yorkshire struggled to make headway, their batting strength undermined by a groin injury to Ballance which has made him doubtful for the first Test against Pakistan at Lord's on Thursday. Lyth was first out, helping a short ball from Andy Carter to third man, and Jack Leaning and Will Rhodes succumbing quickly.
Williamson's innings ended seven balls early, bowled around his legs by his fellow New Zealander Neesham. His seventh-wicket stand of 48 in 27 balls with Bresnan rallied Yorkshire, although as successful as it was, it seems wasteful for a side which struggles to hit long not to find a way to get the potentially destructive hitting of Plunkett into the action earlier.
So for the second season in a row, the group stages of the NatWest Blast had reached the final stages with every county still in contention. That will be used as evidence by those dismissive of Twenty20 that it is such a short game that the result becomes more random and therefore is of less value.
But it can be perceived in different ways. Those seeking comfort will view it as evidence of the depth, not always recognised in England's professional game. Those committed to radical change will insist that it is the withdrawal of England players which levels the standards and only their introduction would lead to a tournament of real value. And some, this being England, just blame the whole thing on the rain which has caused 12 No Results and when matches have been played consigned them too often to sluggish surfaces where quality does not always out.
Whatever the cause, only a fool would suggest with confidence who might win it.