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Tom Sole’s brave half-century late in the day narrowly failed to bring Northamptonshire home as they failed to punish a laboured display by the South Africans, the Proteas winning by 13 runs at Wantage Road in their final warm-up match ahead of the ODI series against England.

Sole, on his senior debut, kept the Northants chase of 276 alive and then with 27 to win from 24 balls and Northants nine down, swung Andile Phehlukwayo twice over long-off for six. 14 were needed from 18 balls as South Africa turned back to the pace of Morne Morkel and he ended the drama - Northants had been 215 for 8 - with a short ball that Sole lifted to third man.

It was a game Northants could easily have won after Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and David Miller made half-centuries in South Africa’s under-par 275 for 7 - a target Northants may well have achieved with a little more care and attention. But the hosts chase failed to build on a strong start and the chance of an upset went begging.

Max Holden’s maiden List A fifty helped give Northants a bright opening. He took four boundaries from Chris Morris’ fourth over. A cut and a cover drive rocketed to the boundary and he played the same strokes for a second time to find the rope with placement to the fore. He passed a half-century in 48 balls but trying to pull a short ball from Imran Tahir, dragged into his stumps for 55.

Chesney Hughes also fell to a cross-batted stroke but his was far more agricultural, attempting a slog sweep at JP Duminy and being bowled for 31. Until then, Hughes played a full part in the second wicket stand of 92 with Holden, the pick of his strokes a blistering cut stroke against Morris.

But Hughes’ dismissal was reflective of the innings where Northants were largely the makers of their own downfall. Saif Zaib swung Tahir to long-on, James Kettleborough mistimed a pull to mid-on and Rory Kleinveldt edged Morne Morkel to the wicketkeeper trying to run a ball to third man.

Steven Crook was the only other batsman to show for Northants, his entertaining 42 featured four boundaries from Phehlukwayo’s sixth over. But he also fell in disappointing fashion, with a mistimed pull taken at short third man. That appeared to be Northants’ hopes ended but Sole got them close.

Northants could well have won after limiting South Africa to three half-centuries but no partnership of real damage. They slid from 197 for 3 to 221 for 7 and it took Duminy and Morris to haul 31 from the final three overs to put up a defendable score.

The tourists lost Quinton de Kock for a seven-ball duck in just the second over - pinned by a Richard Gleeson inswinger - but then regained control through Amla and du Plessis who added 93 for the second wicket.

Amla played a delightful back-foot punch for four past point in the ninth over and was typically strong in working runs through the on-side. He uppercut Gleeson for six to raise fifty in 63 balls but a rare display of aggression - trying to lift Tom Sole down the ground - saw him hole out to long-on for 59. It was Sole’s first wicket in professional cricket.

Du Plessis wasn’t as calm as Amla and worked himself into a lather in trying to force away a disciplined Northants attack. He finally fired, swinging the final ball of the 12th over back over Azharullah’s head for the day’s first six and repeated the shot for four more in Azhar’s next over. But advancing down the pitch to Zaib he picked out deep midwicket.

Miller launched Sole for two mighty sixes that both found the roof of the Lynn Wilson centre but he lost his middle stump to an Azharullah inswinger during South Africa’s slide.

Lower order runs were needed and Morris swept Zaib for four at the start of the 46th over and then lifted him over extra-cover for another boundary. Duminy, relegating himself in the order to number nine, swung Azharullah down the ground for six in the 48th over, and uppercut a boundary in the final over before lifting the final ball of the innings over long-on.

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