Northamptonshire’s Saif Zaib treated a record Royal London Cup crowd at Wantage Road to a commanding 136, as Northamptonshire pulled off their highest ever successful run chase in one-day cricket to beat Essex in a thrilling Royal London Cup clash.

It was a maiden List A century for Zaib, who was initially forced to retire hurt on 129 with Northamptonshire still needing 110. But he returned later to record his highest score in all forms of first team cricket before James Sales and Nathan Buck saw their side home by three wickets with two balls to spare.

Zaib had combined with captain Will Young in a stand worth 212 in 27.1 overs to set Northamptonshire on their way. Zaib was in aggressive form throughout, hitting boundaries all around the wicket, finishing with 14 fours and four sixes.

Essex’s total of 343 for nine was set up by a sparkling century from Feroze Khushi who shared a partnership worth 169 in 23.4 overs with his captain Tom Westley (67). It was his second List A hundred since making 109 against Durham on List A debut last summer. But hopes of capitalising on that start were dashed by Buck who took three wickets in the space of just seven balls to finish with career best figures of five for 59.

Essex had lost a wicket in the second over when Josh Rymell chopped on to Buck. Khushi though showed immediate intent, stroking consecutive boundaries off Buck and hooking him for six before greeting a loosener from Tom Taylor with disdain, smashing it square for four. He was equally adept against the slower bowlers Alex Russell and Zaib, firing the ball down the ground and playing a delicate cut to the ropes.

He had some moments of luck, earning a reprieve on 43 when he was caught hooking a Taylor no ball. Later, one delivery after hitting Zaib for a big six over deep midwicket, he was caught in the deep by Ricardo Vasconcelos who threw the ball back in just before he stepped over the ropes. Then on 86, he was dropped at long-on off Zaib but dispatched the next delivery over the bowler’s head for six to move into the nineties.

Westley meanwhile kept up the rate at the other end, scoring at a run a ball, stroking the ball sweetly around the park, hitting eight boundaries before he fell to a brilliant diving catch by Will Young at short cover off Russell..

Grant Roelofsen (16) played a few aggressive shots but departed when he picked out Vasconcelos on the deep square leg boundary to give Russell a second wicket. 

Khushi’s stay finally ended when he swung Taylor to Young at deep midwicket.

Robin Das got off the mark by hooking Tom Taylor for four to bring up Essex’s 200 in the 30th over and took consecutive boundaries against Zaib. But on the verge of a half century, he smacked Jack White straight to Young at short cover for a well-made 47.

Buck’s spell though was telling. He bowled Will Buttleman and picked up Aaron Beard and Aron Nijjar, both to catches, in quick succession before celebrating his maiden List A five-wicket haul when Shane Snater was caught on the boundary.

Northamptonshire lost two early wickets in the chase against a tight opening burst from Beard and Jamie Porter. Emilio Gay was caught off a leading edge, the first of two early wckets for Beard who also got one to nip back and bowl Vasconcelos (11).

Young and Zaib began the process of rebuilding, the captain pulling Porter for four while Zaib steered Beard took two boundaries behind square in the same over.

Northamptonshire ended the powerplay on 58 for two, 13 behind Essex at the same stage, but soon started to make up lost ground. Young stroked the seamers around the ground, but reserved his biggest shot for slow left armer Nijjar when he swung an enormous six over deep midwicket and moved to his half century off 51 balls.

Zaib meanwhile swung Porter through midwicket.and smacked Nijjar ferociously through the covers for another boundary, moving to his half century off 47 balls. He greeted Jamal Richards by hooking him high over backward square leg for six followed by an off-side four to bring up Northamptonshire’s 150 in the 23rd over.

He reached three figures off just 79 deliveries and showed no signs of slowing down, hitting a Beard delivery out of the ground over deep extra cover.

Young finally fell when given out lbw to Nijjar, one ball after hitting him for six and Northamptonshire quickly lost a second when new batter Rob Keogh was perhaps unfortunate to be adjudged lbw to Snater.

With Zaib still there and Northamptonshire well ahead of the run rate, there still seemed little cause for panic until Zaib went down with heavy cramp attempting a tight second run.

Keeper Lewis McManus (28) though held his nerve, hitting Nijjar down the ground for six and combining in a 54-run stand with Taylor (27). When both fell, Zaib returned to the crease to a huge ovation and dispatched Snater down the ground for six off his first delivery back.

When he was out caught off Richards, Northamptonshire needed 26 off the last two overs. Snater gifted two wides before James Sales struck consecutive boundaries and ran a three. Buck hit his first ball of the match down the ground for six and played a deft cut down to third to leave Northamptonshire needing just three runs off the final over.