Birmingham survived losing seven wickets in 23 balls to chase down 163 and seal qualification to the T20 Blast quarter-finals against Lancashire at Old Trafford.
Defeat ended Lancashire’s hopes of qualifying for the knockout stage, with the Lightning needing to win and rely on favours from elsewhere in order to make the quarter-finals.
As it happened, Leicestershire’s victory over Notts, coupled with Derbyshire’s win against Worcestershire meant that Lancashire would have been out even with a win on a night where eyes were glued to scorecards from around the North group.
But Birmingham took care of their own business in a match where Lancashire were left to rue wayward bowling and dropped catches.
At the halfway stage, Lancashire’s total of 163 was viewed almost unanimously as more than good enough. It was a used pitch and a tough one to bat on, especially against the slower bowlers.
Liam Livingstone and Jordan Clark got them off to a great start in the powerplay, with Livingstone crashing two big sixes including one on to Brian Statham Way. After six overs, the Lightning were 50-0 having faced four overs of spin.
But Josh Poysden’s leg-spin accounted for the opening pair in the seventh over as Livingstone went for a 28-ball 39 and Clark was caught by Jeetan Patel for 12 from 13 balls.
That brought Lancashire’s key man Jos Buttler together with Dane Vilas and the pair shared a stand of 86 runs in 59 balls. They did so through a combination of hard running and the occasional lusty blow.
It was a partnership ended by Olly Stone who trapped Vilas for 30. Buttler would kick on to his half-century from 35 balls before falling in the penultimate over for 58.
Lancashire’s innings stalled somewhat towards the end, where 170 looked likely. But a six from Ryan McLaren in the final over gave Lancashire a total that seemed ample.
It didn’t seem so ample when Ed Pollock capitalised on some pretty dismal Lancashire bowling in the powerplay to race to 49 from 23 balls. He fell in the sixth over one short of his half-century but Birmingham’s 62-1 after the first six had broken the back of the chase.
Lancashire just couldn’t stem the flow of runs and shot themselves in the foot in the field. Matt Parkinson dropped Dom Sibley on 18, who would also go on to make 49.
Arron Lilley missed a tough chance to catch Adam Hose before Hose was also missed by Rob Jones, who ran in to take a catch that ultimately went over his head.
Hose and Sibley – who weren’t even Bears players at the start of their campaign – put on 84 in 60 balls and took Birmingham to within 18 runs of their target.
When Hose was stumped by Buttler off Parkinson it all went a bit mad. They slipped from 145-2 to 160-8 and having needed eight from 18 balls, Birmingham suddenly needed four off the last over.
Spin did much of the damage to scare Birmingham, as Lilley and Livingstone took two wickets each in the last three overs. But, in the end, the remarkable prospect of snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory for Birmingham was ended by a six down the ground from Oliver Stone to seal the win with three balls to spare.
Lancashire have failed to make the knockout stage now for two successive seasons and head coach Glen Chapple admitted they have much to work on.
“We’ve struggled to balance the team at times, I think at times we need a little bit more up front with the ball and that’s where we need to improve,” Chapple said.
“If you are looking to qualify well, we haven’t played well enough and we have to admit that to ourselves. We have to work out how we can get better.
“We’ve got reasonable plans to work on but executing those plans and working on variations and our skill level, we can certainly get better.
“We made a reasonable score on that surface but we didn’t set off in the bowling powerplay very well.
“We only really bowled as well as we can when we took the third or fourth wicket and we looked a different team. Warwickshire looked like they were trying to throw it away.”
Birmingham go on to face Surrey at the Oval next Friday as the quarter-finals take place.
It was a dramatic night at Old Trafford that mirrored the nature of the competition in the North and South Group. On the final night 13 teams were battling to qualify from the two groups.
Eyes were glued to various parts of the country as the wickets tumbled in a dramatic fashion at Old Trafford. That’s the magic of the T20 Blast.
And on the day the world lost true television great Sir Bruce Forsyth, there’s only one way to sum it all up.
Good game, good game.