Wellington Firebirds paceman Ollie Newton caused trouble almost immediately after he made a successful return from his long injury layoff.
Home at the Basin, the Firebirds had sent Northern Districts in, looking to get a win over the second-placed in order to close the gap on the points table, with finals looming ever closer and only the top three sides progressing.
It was a winning start with the coin for new captain Troy Johnson, and it would be a winning start on the points table, too, by day's end. Just.
Newton opened the bowling with Logan van Beek and conceded just six runs and a wide from his first five-over spell, including a maiden in the third over.
When he came back for a second spell in the 36th, he had Henry Cooper caught immediately, then Brett Hampton caught two balls later before another maiden in the 38th.
With Anurag Verma caught off his last over at the death, the wiry 32-year-old finished with a fine return of 3-23 off his 10.
That effort would prove a crucial difference in a match that went down to the wire.
Jeet Raval got ND off to a start with 69 at the top, sharing a 58-run opening stand with impressive young Katene Clarke and forming fledgling partnerships with Joe Carter, BJ Watling and Colin de Grandhomme in his wake to see the ND 100 go up in the 23rd over.
No doubt a few overs behind the runs target thanks to Newton's parsimony, but the big problem for ND was the loss of big wickets with both Watling and Carter gone early - Carter left stunned as the increasingly handy Michael Bracewell swooped for a speccy of a return catch.
Colin de Grandhomme stopped the rot for ND with a run-a-ball 43, but Raval's departure when he became leggie Peter Youngshusband's second wicket was a blow that ushered in the unravelling of the innings, Northern all out in the last over for 205 and Ben Sears picking up 3-40.
The Firebirds did not start well after lunch, thanks to Scott Kuggeleijn. The maturing paceman was all over the top order, trapping Finn Allen for a three-ball duck in the first over - a wicket maiden - and quickly adding Jakob Bhula and Tom Blundell to sit on figures of 3-13.
Kuggeleijn would finish with 4-41 off his 10 when he added van Beek in the 43rd over, but by then things were getting a little too close for comfort from ND's perspective.
Captain Johnson (66 off 85, above) and Fraser Colson (a career-best unbeaten 80* off 115) had done a sterling job of reviving the chase in a 109-run stand for the fifth wicket.
Once Joe Walker broke it, the allrounders came and went quickly, and the door was ajar again for ND to wrap it up with the ball. Verma and Hampton bowled tightly at the death until the Firebirds faced the last two overs still needing another five runs - not a fait accompli given they were down to their last wicket, and Hampton had just struck with his final delivery of the 48th.
Everything was in the balance as Colson took strike for the 49th, but he safely plucked two off the first ball before finding the fence two balls later to sew up a tight four-pointer.
The Firebirds were still in third place, but crucially they had moved further ahead of the chasing pack in the race to make the playoffs.
Article added: Monday 22 February 2021