On a fine Birmingham evening, and in front of an animated crowd of over 15000, Worcestershire Rapids beat their local rivals the Birmingham Bears by just five runs to win the Norman Gifford Trophy and keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the knock-out stages of the NatWest T20 Blast.
An excellent pitch offered a little encouragement to everyone, guaranteeing a great evening’s entertainment.
Whilst there were some outstanding performances on both sides, what maybe turned the match for the Rapids was a humble helmet.
In the 18th over of the Rapids’ innings, a ball from Aaron Thomason beat the bat, beat keeper Alex Mellor and struck the helmet. The result was five penalty runs, the exact margin of the Rapids’ victory.
Chasing 191 to win, the Bears were always a little bit short of the required rate. Dominic Sibley, on debut, followed up four excellent overs of leg spin with 49 off 34 balls.
But the rest of the top four – Ian Bell, Sam Hain and Adam Hose – contributed just 22 between them. Grant Elliott and Colin de Grandhomme attempted a Kiwi rescue act. Although the Big Man managed a couple of huge sixes, both of the New Zealanders fell to mis-hits.
It was left to Aaron Thomason to emphasise his potential, with 33 off just 16 balls. But it was too little too late.
Mitchell Santner’s four overs of left arm spin brought him three wickets for just 16 runs. He was well supported by Brett D’Oliveira and Joe Leach; and at the death, John Hastings held his nerve when 19 were needed off the last over.
Despite a couple of dropped catches by Tongue and Brown, overall the Rapids out-fielded the Bears with Ed Barnard being outstanding in the deep and Ben Cox looking smart behind the stumps.
Having been put into bat, the Rapids got off to a flier, hitting 83-1 off the six powerplay overs. Hastings and Joe Clarke’s opening stand reached 75 off just 4.4 overs.
Hastings’ 51 came off just 20 balls with, four fours and five sixes. He enjoyed the short boundary on the Pershore Road side of the ground. He also loved the single over bowled by Colin de Grandhomme, which went for 30 runs including three consecutive sixes off the last three balls. That turned into five sixes in a row when Clarke hit the first two balls of Boyd Rankin’s next over for six.
After that, the Bears did well to restrict the Rapids to just 107 off their last 14 overs. This was largely thanks to Jeetan Patel, as ever, who took 2-26 off his four overs including the key wicket of Hastings, caught on the deep mid-wicket boundary.
More surprising was the performance of debutant Dominic Sibley, who took 1-20 with some controlled leg spin. His loan to the Bears, which becomes a permanent move from Surrey next season, is so recent that his shirt lacked both a name and a number. Had he worn a poncho and smoked a cigarillo, he could have been mistaken for Clint Eastwood – the Man with No Name.
Brett D’Oliveira gave the Rapids’ innings some much-needed late momentum with 35 off 15 balls. But, overall, the Bears must have been relieved not to be chasing well in excess of 200.
Apart from the helmet incident, there were one or two other sloppy bits of fielding. Alex Mellor missed stumping Santner and Grant Elliott dropped a caught and bowled from the same batsman.
At the end of this match, both teams are left with plenty to play for. With the other two top teams in the North Group also losing, the Bears are still well placed to qualify. The Rapids, with games in hand, might well sneak up on the rails to join them in the knock-out stages.