The Birmingham Bears booked their place at T20 Finals day with a clear 24 run win over the Essex Eagles. The Eagles will rue some inconsistent bowling and sloppy fielding that accounted for the difference between the two sides.
On a grey Edgbaston evening the start was delayed by ten minutes because of a rain shower. Fortunately, the predicted thunderstorms did not materialise and the decent sized crowd were rewarded with a full game played on a pitch that was true but with some bounce for the quicker bowlers.
The Eagles won the toss and, not surprisingly in view of the doubtful weather forecast, chose to field.
The Bears’ total of 189-5 was the result of some focused hitting by Laurie Evans (50 off 31 balls) and Chris Woakes (48 off 23 balls). They shared a fifth wicket stand of 69 off 6.2 overs. The Bears were helped by fielding lapses by the Essex Eagles. Wicket-keeper James Foster dropped Varun Chopra off a massive skier and skipper Ryan ten Doeschate failed to hold onto a fierce hit from Evans at extra cover. Neither miss was massively expensive but, together with a few other fumbles, it made for an untidy display.
The Eagles were handicapped by two injuries. David Masters fell awkwardly at third man and had to leave the field in the 16th over. He had already bowled a steady spell of four overs for 24 runs so the loss was not too great.
More serious was the leg injury that caused Graham Napier to pull up after just one ball of his second over. One consequence of this was that Tom Westley had to bowl the only over of spin in the innings that went for 18 runs.
Shaun Tait was fast but wild. He had Laurie Evans caught off a no ball (and Woakes caught off the free hit) and went for 37 in his three overs. The Eagles had cause to be thankful for the relative steadiness of Ravi Bopara whose four overs went for 29 and yielded the wicket of Varun Chopra. William Porterfield and Rikki Clarke made small but lively contributions but it was Evans and Woakes who upped the pace so that 84 came off the last seven overs.
Essex made a bold attempt for the runs. The Bears made one or two errors in the field, Jeetan Patel and Boyd Rankin giving James Foster a couple of lives late on. But in the main, they kept the pressure on the batsmen. Plenty of people got starts. Jesse Ryder had 26 off 22 balls , Tom Westley 33 off 27 and Bopara 32 off 27. But hard though James Foster tried at the end, he could not meet the challenge of 29 off the last over and Essex fell a full 24 runs short.
Chris Woakes and Rikki Clarke starred with the ball for the Bears and though Jeetan Patel bowled an uncharacteristically variable spell, his final ball that yorked Bopara was a killer for the Eagles.
The Bears will be delighted with their consistent all round display that gives them opportunity to defend their title on their home ground.