An outstanding final over from veteran Mark Ealham could not prevent Notts Outlaws from losing to Durham in their opening match in the Twenty20 Cup.

After Notts had made 163-6 thanks to Will Jefferson’s 75 and 43 not out from skipper Chris Read, Durham recovered from a poor start and appeared to be cruising to victory at 130-5 at the end of the 13th over.

But their top-scorers Dale Benkenstein (53) and Ian Blackwell (59) both got out in the closing stages, Blackwell hitting debutant Kevin O’Brien to a diving Jason Brown at midwicket to leave the tail needing seven off the final two overs.

Luke Fletcher conceded six to leave the scores level at the start of the 20th over. In a thrilling finale, Ealham bowled five dot balls including the wicket of Gordon Muchall lbw, while Adam Voges ran out Graham Onions with a direct hit from midwicket as the visitors began to panic.

With a crowd of 6,516 cheering every dot ball, a tied match appeared on the cards but Mitchell Claydon managed to force the final delivery to the midwicket boundary for a one-wicket victory.

Read claimed after the match that he always believed his side had a chance of getting back into the game and said: “You are never really out of a Twenty20 game.

“What killed us was the partnership between Blackwell and Benkenstein, but we knew that if we kept plugging away and got the two of them out, there was a bit of fragility lower down the Durham order.

“We had nothing to lose in the final over and preyed on their nerves a bit. We had to close the field, and that left them with the only option of hitting over the top.

“Ealy made that difficult, and there was a bit of panic in the run-out. But sadly, we couldn’t finish it off.

“For the neutral it was an unbelievable game of cricket - a great advert for the game. Full credit to (head groundsman) Steve Birks for producing a great pitch. There was a bit in it early on for the seamers but it also let you play your shots, as was reflected in the scores.”

Notts lost four wickets inside the first seven overs, forcing Read and Jefferson to rebuild before attacking.

Jefferson used his 6ft 10in frame to good effect with a number of powerful sweep shots, hitting eight fours and three sixes in an 48-ball innings in what was his highest score in the competition, while Read was content to work the singles and give his partner the strike.

Durham also lost early wickets at the start of their chase but Blackwell and Benkenstein quickly got ahead of the run-rate, with Darren Pattinson conceding 22 off the sixth over of the innings, while Samit Patel and Jason Brown were also punished.

Pattinson returned to remove Benkenstein while O’Brien claimed two wickets, but Notts could not quite finish the Durham innings off.