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North Group (N), Northampton, June 30, 2021, Vitality Blast
(20 ov, T:174) 143

Northants won by 30 runs

Player Of The Match
62 (33)

Ben Curran takes down Ben Stokes to inspire Northants win as Sam and Tom watch on from afar

Middle brother's T20 best galvanises strugglers before Graeme White spins Durham out

David Hopps
David Hopps
Ben Curran slog-sweeps over midwicket, July 23, 2020

Ben Curran slog-sweeps over midwicket  •  Getty Images

Northamptonshire173 for 5 (Curran 62, Vasconcelos 60) beat Durham 143 (Potts 40*, Dickson 40, White 4-26)
At an England squad hotel in London, ahead of Thursday's day-night affair against Sri Lanka, Tom and Sam Curran committed their evening to watching the Blast, iPad perched on the bed and their less celebrated brother, Ben, the subject of their affection.
Such family loyalty could not have been better rewarded. Ben Curran made light of a demoralising season to play the first major T20 innings of his career - and perform in such assertive fashion that with the contest half-a-dozen overs old, he had already produced the match-defining innings.
Ben, the middle Curran brother, is occasionally reminded that he is the one striving to pin down a county career - this season had brought only 148 runs in Championship cricket at 14.80 and, until he was brought in to Northants' T20 side for their previous match against Leicestershire, he had plenty of time to dwell on it.
Entrusted with his usual opening spot, he made light of a T20 career record that had brought 61 runs at 10.16, with a strike rate of 101.66, to reach 50 in 19 deliveries, with 10 fours and a six. As his more celebrated brothers cheered on every boundary, here was one middle child, at least, who could not claim to feel neglected.
"It is a long tournament and I've been waiting to get my turn to come into the team and contribute," he said. "They said they were going to be watching on the stream. I couldn't do much yesterday so I was under the pump today to perform. It was nice to give them something to watch in their hotel."
He was helped by a match-up with a couple of Durham pace bowlers on senior debut, Jack Campbell, a 21-year-old who began his career at Hampshire, and a 17-year-old Academy product, Harry Crawshaw, who leaked 31 between them in their opening overs.
A surfeit of half-volleys put him in the mood, and Ben Stokes, no young buck he, was repelled in turn with four successive boundaries, the first - and best - of them a flip over long leg. His fifty was Northants' second-fastest, second only to Ben Duckett's 17-baller in his farewell season.
At the end of the Powerplay, Northants were 75 for 0, but Curran's pressure-cooker start was already losing steam. When he fell for 62, two fresh-air swishes at Campbell followed by a nick to the wicketkeeper, Northants had brought up the hundred in the 10th over.
If the Currans took a view at that point and sought to alleviate the boredom of the bio-bubble by turning their attention to Mortal Kombat 11 (where two warring tribes presumably fight over the future of intelligent spelling), they were good judges. Only Ricardo Vasconcelos, Curran's opening partner, who made 60 from 45 balls, came anywhere close to rivalling his authority.
Northants subsided to 173 for 5, Stokes bowling Vasconcelos and Josh Cobb with five overs to go, and they were grateful for a couple of late sixes from Saif Zaib to maintain any impetus.
Durham's fightback with the ball ended the moment they took guard. They needed to replicate Northants' Powerplay while the new ball provided some energy, but ended their own first six-overs on 39 for 4 and were dismissed on the last ball of the match for 143, malfunctioning from the outset on a dismally slow pitch.
Stokes, a potential miracle-worker, was one of those to fall. He edged a good ball from Tom Taylor, covering up defensively, to fall for nought and walked off with a shake of the head.
Graeme White, the veteran left-arm spinner, wrecked the middle order to record 4 for 26 and, in the process, take his T20 tally to 76 wickets and overtake David Willey as Northants leading wicket-taker in the format. His first wicket came in the third over when Bancroft squirted to mid-on, and his second when Ned Eckersley top-edged to the square leg boundary in the seventh over. White continued his special night as Raine swept to deep midwicket and Sean Dickson was stumped for 40. Matty Potts' defiant unbeaten 40 got them as close as realistically possible.
The North group has concertinaed with two of the top four - Yorkshire and Durham - heavily beaten on Wednesday night and looking low on resources in the process. There has been some excellent entertainment along the way, and some intriguing new faces (Northants' left-arm wrist spinner, Freddie Heldreich, being the latest example) but occasionally the debilitating effects of Covid, financial cutbacks and England calls have put variable standards under pressure. This match was no different.

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

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