Clusters of wickets at crucial times proved the Durham Jets’ downfall as they lost by three runs to the Worcestershire Rapids in the T20 Blast.
Chasing a relatively modest 160 for victory, the hosts found themselves ahead early on before being outfoxed by Pakistan spinner Saeed Ajmal.
Ajmal, who recently returned to cricket with a re-modelled action, decimated the Jets’ lower order en-route to figures of 3-16.
Mark Stoneman opened with a quick 35, Phil Mustard contributed 43 and Gordon Muchall’s 41* included late fireworks.
Durham have now lost half of their eight games to date, leaving them needing a strong second half to the campaign to stand a chance of qualification.
Their nemesis last time out was England’s Ian Bell and another national team regular, Moeen Ali, wasted little time in showing his attacking intent after the Rapids elected to bat first.
He planted Ryan Pringle’s first delivery down the ground for six and followed with boundaries in consecutive overs before the Jets dismissed the danger man for 26.
The 27-year-old attempted to hoist Chris Rushworth into the stands, but Keaton Jennings caught him out.
New man Richard Oliver tried to continue the aggression in Ali’s absence, but mistimed a leg-side swipe, top edging Paul Collingwood into the hands of short third man.
Disciplined bowling in the middle overs kept the Rapids in check, but after taking 13 from Scott Borthwick’s second over, the visitors looked to kick on towards a huge total.
Mitchell passed 50, with just four boundaries, while Tom Kohler-Cadmore provided able support.
Usman Arshad applied the brakes with two wickets in the 17th over, including Mitchell on 56 and Ross Whiteley lbw first ball, while conceding just three runs.
Colin Munro was then run out, clashing against Kohler-Cadmore and stumbling midway down the track, though his partner bolstered their score towards a respectable 159/5 by launching two boundaries in the final over.
Durham’s reply started in pulsating fashion as Stoneman plundered boundaries within the first three overs.
The skipper looked strong, pulling Ed Barnard for six and following it up with three consecutive boundaries.
But Ajmal delivered a first over maiden and Stoneman fell immediately, checking the Jets’ stride.
Mustard set about a recovery but Durham struggled for partnerships as Mitchell forced Calum MacLeod to reverse sweep onto his own stumps before Collingwood had his off stump uprooted the very next ball.
Ajmal’s second spell decimated the home side. Mustard’s good work was undone when he softly reverse swept into the hands of Kohler-Cadmore and Ryan Pringle ran past the spinner’s quicker ball to be stumped.
Still 48 runs short with 30 balls left, their last hopes rested upon John Hastings until the Aussie was run out on four.
Arshad became Ajmal’s third wicket and despite two boundaries in the final over from Muchall it was too little, too late.