It was a shame for the organisers of the NatWest T20 Blast that the weather gods decided that of all the fixtures around the country, only the dead rubber at Headingley would be allowed to take place. The Bears were already guaranteed a home quarter-final, Yorkshire were already out.
The game took another grim turn at the toss, with the news that Yorkshire’s overseas star Glenn Maxwell had been dropped for disciplinary reasons after turning up late to a second team match in York this week. All signs pointed to a mauling, with Brendon McCullum making his final appearance for the Bears. Liam Plunkett did claim a victim when stand-in opener Tom Lewis played a horrible shot in the air and was caught by Jack Leaning at cover.
Even then, the Bears were growling. On came young Matthew Fisher (he will still be known as “young Matthew Fisher” in 2020) to bowl the second over. The first ball was played into the outfield for a single by Ambrose. He beat McCullum, the second-greatest T20 batsman in the world, outside off stump. The next ball, McCullum deposited over the long on boundary for six as if it had been the easiest shot in the world. Then, he was beaten outside off again.
The next ball, New Zealand’s fearless captain was walking back to the pavilion. The ball was straighter, he tried to attack it, and lost his stumps in the process. All of a sudden, these weren’t wild Canadian grizzlies taking devastating swipes at anyone who approached; they were dancing bears from RSPCA donation adverts.
Ambrose was joined by the grizzlied veteran Rikki Clarke, and they rebuilt patiently in the powerplay overs, taking Ben Coad’s first over for 13. With the third ball of his second set, however, Coad induced an edge from Tim Ambrose which had the Birmingham keeper caught behind. Coad’s night got even better when he deceived Clarke with a slower ball, and the leading edge was comfortably taken by Jack Leaning.
The Birmingham side had expected to dominate the young Yorkshire line-up, and they did not adapt quickly enough to the situation when things started to go wrong. Chris Woakes was caught at cover by Fisher going for a big hit, and Laurie Evans was caught behind trying to take Will Rhodes for a third consecutive boundary when his team needed somebody to hang around for the end.
Richard Pyrah, who benefitted from Maxwell’s indiscretion with a place in the team, finished an excellent spell of 4-0-21-2 with the wicket of Jeetan Patel. Will Rhodes had the dangerous-looking Recordo Gordon caught in the deep and then removed Hannon-Dalby with a slower Yorker. Only an expensive over from Matthew Waite in his second T20 match marred a fine Yorkshire performance with the ball.
Fishers and Bears might be considered natural enemies, both directly in competition for the fruits of the river. It was Fisher who took the salmon home on this occasion, delivering the final coup de grace when Ateeq Javid drove him straight to stand-in captain Alex Lees at cover.
Pressure and/or wickets were vital for Birmingham in the defence of 145, and Yorkshire’s batting line-up was a far from formidable force on paper, with Liam Plunkett pencilled in at six. The early loss of Will Rhodes for five was a key moment for both sides. When Jack Leaning eased his first ball through the packed off side field for four, though, the pressure on his and Alex Lees’ shoulders seemed to fall away. In the next over, Lees drove Gordon exquisitely for another boundary to put his side ahead of the run rate.
Birmingham’s spinners have worked wonders for them in this campaign, but Patel and Poysden simply did not have enough runs on the board for their bowling to exert any pressure. They set ultra-defensive fields to prevent boundaries, but Lees and Leaning milked the Bears (please, do not try this on any bears at home) with confidence and skill. When Lees swept Patel straight through Tim Ambrose for four, it was clear which of the stand-in skippers was going to have their night.
He reached his 50 with a pull off Recordo Gordon, and when he was out for 63 off 56, lbw to Jeetan Patel’s quicker ball, the rate was under control. Leaning smashed Hannon-Dalby into the East Stand for six and recorded a career best 60* to see the home side win with three balls left.
The respective fortunes of the Bears and Vikings in the 2015 Blast may have been polar (sorry) opposites, but the future for Yorkshire could yet be as bright in T20s as it is in the four-day game.