The Birmingham Bears saw themselves secure a home quarter final in the Natwest T20 Blast last Wednesday after beating the Northamptonshire Steelbacks by just a single run.
It was Brendon McCullum’s last game in front of the crowds at Edgbaston, and he wasn’t able to sign off in the style he wanted, being the first wicket to fall for 26 after being dropped early on. It was a theme of dropped catches that would continue for both sides throughout the game.
Captain Varun Chopra was the main stay of the Bear’s innings, scoring 52 off 48 balls. There were small cameos from Tom Lewis and Rikki Clarke as they were both caught Richard Levi off the bowling of Steven Crook and David Willey respectively.
Laurie Evans was able to contribute 20 before he was caught by White off the great death bowling of Azharullah, who finished with figures of 1-24 off his 4 overs. Crook however was the pick of the Steelbacks attack, claiming 3-30, including the scalps of McCullum and Chopra.
It meant that the Bear’s bowlers had 154 to defend on what was ultimately a batting pitch. Rikki Clarke opened the bowling as he often has this season and continued to do an excellent job, only conceding 16 runs in his 4 overs during the powerplay.
At the other end, it was Oliver Hannon-Dalby who was taking the wickets as Northants came out and looked play aggressively, taking the wickets of Richard Levi and David Willey for 15 and 2 respectively. Recordo Gordon also picked up the wicket of Ben Duckett for 4 inside the powerplay to see the Steelbacks 3 wickets down by the end of the first 6 overs.
Alex Wakely was able to keep hope alive for Northants, hitting an unbeaten 51 from 42 balls after coming in at 5. It helped setup an exciting finish as he was joined at the crease by Rory Kleinveldt for the last 3 overs.
Needing 23 runs off the last over, Kleinveldt hit two sixes with the first two balls to pile pressure on Gordon and cause a swing in momentum. However Gordon was able to bring it back, bowling tightly meaning Northants could only run twos and singles. It was a great effort that saw them fall just 1 run short of the Bear’s total.
It was a crucial win in securing a home quarter final as 2 days later Birmingham took on the Yorkshire Vikings at Headingly in the only game that was played to completion on Friday. Missing captain Chopra, the Bears lost, with Yorkshire winning by 8 wickets with 3 balls remaining.
Regardless of that result, Birmingham finished top of the North Group ahead of rivals Worcestershire, Northamptonshire and Lancashire and will play Essex in the quarter final of the T20 Blast on Thursday 13th August.
Man of the Match: Varun Chopra