They had to live up to their name, but Southern Brave became the first ever champions of the Men’s Hundred as they punched through Birmingham Phoenix’s heavyweight batting to win the final by 32 runs. Even the combined power hitting of Liam Livingstone and Moeen Ali, in a partnership of 56 from 26 balls, could not overhaul their total of 168, after Paul Stirling top-scored with an innings of 61 off 36.
Following Brave’s performance in the eliminator the previous night, you always sensed the final would come down to this: a contest between Vince’s unrelenting roster of bowlers, and the merciless batting of the Phoenix. George Garton rolled over his fiery form of 24 hours earlier, and Livingstone strode to the wicket like an ancient hero summoned from his battle tent with two wickets down for only 14.
Poor David Bedingham, brought back into the side after a five-ball duck in Durham’s Royal London One-day Cup final defeat, was out for the same score here, from three fewer balls. Will Smeed, the 19-year-old wunderkind with the highest strike rate in the tournament, was castled by the weight of expectation and the five balls he faced yielded only two runs.
Livingstone walked out to the biggest cheer of the night. He knew what the crowd had come to see, and he gave it to them. He swiped his third delivery from Garton for six like a bothersome fly, and did the same to the next. He was dropped in the deep twice. The first time was off Jake Lintott, when Craig Overton slipped stepping forward for an easy boundary catch. When Vince responded by bowling Lintott for the full 10, Livingstone hit the four he faced for 15, and eased Phoenix past the asking rate for the first time.
His 46 off 19 added another four sixes to his tournament total. In the end no bowler could do for him – he did for himself, after the second drop, off Chris Jordan. He had given a little skip as he saw the ball go down at cover and turned for an apparently easy second in his relief. But the throw from the deep by the back-up fielder Tim David beat him back there, shaving the base of the stumps as if Atropos herself had guided his hand. When a brilliant catch by Garton running around the boundary from mid-on had them 83 for four, Phoenix’s on-screen win-percentage tumbled in real time.
At the other end, an impassive Moeen Ali chewed gum behind his grille, like a Clint Eastwood character considering his next move. He had played the anchor role calmly but, with partners running out, he skipped down the pitch and holed out to Lintott with 72 still needed from 34 balls, and all hope went with him. Fifty-four from the last 20 became 50 from 10 as Vince’s death bowlers strangled the life out of the game.
Vince lifted the trophy, but the England and Wales Cricket Board must have felt like winners themselves. Heavy downpours had threatened their big showcase final of the summer and it would have required some good work from the spin room if the first ever Hundred finals had been reduced and forcibly rebranded to the Eighty-Five or the Thirty-Seven. After the women’s game got under way on time, the rain radar cleared, and the sun had joined the party by the time the men were half an hour into their match. Whether it was a sign of divine approval for the frequently maligned competition, future scripture will tell.
Phoenix had won the toss and taken to the field accompanied by tongues of flame, and puffs of pink and green smoke; in such a dragon’s lair, it was fitting that Adam Milne should also breathe fire. Paul Stirling struggled to get a bat on his opening spell, and after Quinton De Kock had swung-scooped Dillon Pennington in front of his feet, the same attempted scwoop off Milne went to straight to short fine leg.
De Kock had scored seven; Vince, who replaced him, managed four. Moeen brought on Imran Tahir and ring-fenced the offside for the Brave’s captain, and he was bowled as he knelt to sweep. Tahir’s joyous celebration will have disappointed the TV directors in only one regard: he finished it in front of the beery Tavern stand, and the crowd he shared the moment with was decidedly off-message.
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Twenty-five from the powerplay was a paltry return, but Stirling was the man for the rescue. The Irishman had beefed the first short ball he saw into the Tavern stand, and swung sixes off Benny Howell’s slower deliveries over deep midwicket like a forester practising his axe work. He cut Pat Brown for consecutive fours and brought his 50 up off 31 balls with a six off Tahir before he was out slashing at a ball from Howell that kept low and needed quick hands from Chris Benjamin to take the catch.
Livingstone himself removed David, after the batter had pulled his first delivery out of the ground, but 103 off 70 was a good platform, and Ross Whiteley and Alex Davies added 42 off 21 as they took to first Howell and then Brown, before Milne returned to dismiss Davies in the final 10.