Such was the hype surrounding Brendon McCullum’s debut for Birmingham that the game itself became almost a secondary issue. When the New Zealand star departed for a promising but ultimately underwhelming 18 inside the powerplay, everyone rather looked around and wondered just who else was playing. As it turned out, despite a lack of boundaries, it was a rather thrilling contest, which saw Birmingham clinch a dramatic final ball victory.
Having won the toss, Birmingham suffered the same fate as Durham had against Lancashire on Thursday and stalled as soon as pace came off the ball outside the powerplay. They lost wickets at regular intervals and found boundaries very hard to come by as they posted a below par 137-8.
What they did to great effect with the ball in hand was to give Lancashire a taste of their own medicine, and a mixture of spin and cutters left the Lightning always behind the rate. A super knock from James Faulkner brought Lancashire within touching distance and set up a thrilling final over where Liam Livingstone almost got his side over the line; ultimately though, it was the Birmingham Bears who triumphed by one run.
Opening with Varun Chopra, McCullum gave himself a couple of balls before cutting loose and lashing three successive fours off Kyle Jarvis in the second over. Another lusty blow off the bowling of Faulkner in the fourth was just about all there was from the Kiwi and he perished with the penultimate ball of the powerplay. McCullum attempted to launch Jordan Clark for a straight six but got too much elevation and was brilliantly caught by Steven Croft who dashed 30 yards to his right to take a diving catch.
That left Birmingham 49-1 at the end of the powerplay with Chopra looking superb on 30 as he was joined at the crease by William Porterfield. Lancashire adopted their tried-and-trusted approach of bowling spin at both ends after the powerplay, and they began to apply the squeeze.
Birmingham had pushed the score on to 69-1 at the start of the ninth over when Chopra went after picking out Lilley in the deep off the bowling of Parry. At the halfway stage the game was evenly poised at 71-2.
Trial by spin continued and Rikki Clarke fell in the 13th over having done little damage. Boundaries were hard to come by against the spinners on a pitch which gripped and turned. That turn did for the dangerous Laurie Evans who was Stephen Parry’s second wicket in the 15th over. Trying to hit the ball down the ground, Evans sliced to short third man where Jarvis took an excellent catch. Early momentum had stalled and, after 16 overs, Birmingham were 109-4 and they had hit only four boundaries since the end of the powerplay.
The final four overs yielded 28 runs for the loss of four wickets as the Birmingham innings tailed away. Lancashire had bowled 12 overs of spin and conceded just 71 while picking up four wickets. James Faulkner ended the innings brilliantly for Lancashire taking two wickets in three balls before Recordo Gordon lashed the only six of the innings with three balls remaining. The Bears ended on a disappointing 137-8.
Prince got the Lightning off to a positive start and hit Oliver Hannon-Dalby for a big six in the second over, but the bowler got his revenge as Prince picked out Porterfield at point to leave Lancashire 13-1. Karl Brown was another batsman who smashed a six and then swiftly perished as he was caught behind off Recordo Gordon. Lancashire were struggling to get the ball away and at the end of the powerplay were 32-2 – seventeen adrift of Birmingham at the same stage.
Paul Horton had started slowly but was beginning to find his feet after hitting two boundaries in quick succession. He departed after 8.5 overs in a mix up with Steven Croft which resulted in Horton being run out by a distance for 24. Lancashire were 52-3 at that stage and at the halfway point were just 56-3, still needing 82 off 60 balls.
Croft’s dismissal brought brought Faulkner and Jordan Clark together, and the pair set about accelerating the run rate and some innovative play and aggressive running cut the target to 48 from 30 at the end of the fifteenth over.
When Faulkner launched Jeetan Patel into the second tier of spectators in the 16th, Lancashire were starting to believe. Jordan Clark’s dismissal in the next over stalled the momentum and left Lancashire 108-5 after 17 – needing 30 from 18 balls. Ten runs off the next over gave the Red Rose hope but Faulkner’s dismissal for 34 followed by Alex Davies scooping to the keeper left them needing an improbable 17 from the last six balls.
Young Liam Livingstone almost pulled off the impossible, striking a four and then a six to leave three needed off the last ball. He could only pick out cover and the run out meant that Birmingham had won a thrilling contest by one run.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Recordo Gordon
The Birmingham seamer adapted superbly to the conditions and bowled brilliantly. His mixture of Yorkers and slower balls proved tough for Lancashire to hit and he thoroughly deserved his four wickets. He was the main obstacle to Lancashire in their run chase and secured the win for his side.