By Rob Barnett & Callum Dent
Birmingham Bears earned the club’s first domestic Twenty20 title with a four-run defeat of Lancashire Lightning in a tense NatWest T20 Blast final at a sold-out Edgbaston.
The Bears, who changed their name from Warwickshire to Birmingham in the competition ahead of this season, responded positively to playing in front of an expectant home crowd.
The host county had only once before reached a domestic T20 showpiece, the very first in 2003 when they lost to Surrey at Trent Bridge.
Birmingham may have been surprised to face Andrew Flintoff today, the former England all-rounder making just his third appearance since ending a four-and-half-year retirement to play in the Blast.
Flintoff, who did not feature in the Lightning’s semi-final, snared former international team-mate Ian Bell with his first ball but the Bears recovered to post an imposing 181 for five thanks to man-of-the-match Laurie Evans’ rapid fifty.
Despite a quicker half-century from Karl Brown, Birmingham kept their opponents under wraps for most of the reply on a chilly evening.
However, two consecutive Flintoff sixes left 14 needed from the last over and created the chance of a fairytale ending for the 36-year-old.
Yet current England all-rounder Chris Woakes held his nerve as Flintoff was stranded on 20 not out from eight deliveries and Lancashire on 177 for eight.
The Lightning were therefore denied maiden T20 glory in their second final, the first being in 2005 when Flintoff was also involved.
Due to Kabir Ali’s injury, Flintoff was the sole change to either side from the last four when Birmingham beat Surrey and Lancashire defeated Hampshire.
Having won the toss, Varun Chopra soon flicked James Anderson for six over backward square-leg.
Flintoff was given the third over and Bell paid for trying to hit him over mid-on as Brown ran back to take a steepling catch.
Will Porterfield, who top-scored with 81 not out in the first semi, responded with two consecutive fours off Tom Smith before he and Chopra launched sixes in Flintoff’s next over.
Shortly after the powerplay yielded 63, Steven Croft struck when Chopra played on for 30.
Spinners Croft and Stephen Parry kept the middle overs tight and the latter was rewarded by bowling Porterfield behind his legs for 31.
Rikki Clarke offered impetus by pulling Parry for four and six before Jordan Clark missed the chance to run Evans out for five from his own bowling.
Clarke was bowled for 27 by Smith’s slower ball and, at 114 for four from 15 overs, Lancashire were on top.
However, Evans cut loose with four sixes in 10 personal balls, the latter heralding his fifty.
Evans holed out to deep midwicket off Smith for a 34-ball 53 but Woakes’ fours from the innings’ last two deliveries, bowled by Anderson, ensured the last four overs each realised double figures.
In the reply Smith was fairly soon into his stride with sixes off Ateeq Javid and Clarke.
Yet Smith fell in the last over of the powerplay, which cost 45, lead-edging Woakes to backward point.
Ashwell Prince, whose 72 set up Lancashire’s last-four win, made a measured 30 only to play on to Boyd Rankin.
Evans shelled Brown in the deep early in his innings and the right-hander clubbed Jeetan Patel over the midwicket rope later in the over.
Rankin had two wickets in as many overs when he pulled straight to deep backward square but Brown and Jos Buttler carried the fight with 17 from a Javid over.
Oliver Hannon-Dalby importantly had England wicketkeeper-batsman Buttler caught behind and trapped Croft in front during consecutive overs. Croft was reluctant to go after getting an edge.
Although between times Brown clubbed Clarke for his third six, Patel having Paul Horton caught behind left Lancashire seemingly out of it at 125 for six in the 16th over.
Clark and Brown again cleared the ropes but Woakes yorked the latter for 55 from 28 deliveries and Bell judged a catch well at long-on to make the former Hannon-Dalby’s third victim.
Flintoff kept his team in it with maximums down the ground and over midwicket, only for Woakes to bowl a series of yorkers that prevented a boundary in the final over as Parry could not manage the six required from the last ball.
The NatWest man-of-the-match Laurie Evans said: “It means a lot. What a day! I thought when I dropped that catch and (Karl) Browny hit that six next ball, my heart as in my mouth. I didn’t want to let the lads down. They are a great bunch. It was a great pitch. The way the boys have closed out games is a special effort.”
Birmingham Bears skipper Varun Chopra said: “It is an amazing feeling. The crowd were fantastic. It was a real entertaining day. Chris (Woakes) executed his final over really well, I trusted him."
On Evans’ contribution, Chopra added: “He has done it a few times for us. He really gave us some impetus.”
Lancashire captain Paul Horton said: “All credit to Birmingham. They have had a great campaign. We felt at the halfway point that we could get them. It is such a shame we couldn’t get over the line. We will come back next year. We have played really well. We haven’t done a lot wrong.”
Lancashire Lightning Innings
— NatWest T20 Blast (@NatWestT20Blast) August 23, 2014
9.39pm - END OF INNINGS! Lan 177/8; Flintoff 20, Parry 4 - BIRMINGHAM BEARS WIN BY FOUR RUNS AND ARE CROWNED NATWEST T20 BLAST CHAMPIONS!! - Parry manages only a single from the final delivery to hand Birmingham Bears the title. A brilliant ending to a fine day. Flintoff tried his best, but didn't have quite enough at the end.
9.38pm - Stephen Parry squirts Woakes behind point for two, leaving six to win off the final ball.
9.36pm - The former England skipper takes a couple to long-on this time. Woakes then fires in a yorker that only brings one. Eight are needed from two balls.
9.33pm - Woakes' first delivery goes through to Ambrose and a full-length dive is required from Flintoff to get home after a scampered single. Flintoff then picks up two down to long-off.
9.31pm - Flintoff rolls back the years, clubbing Hannon-Dalby over long-off and deep midwicket for consecutive sixes. This cannot happen, can it? The Lightning need 14 from the final over.
9.29pm - WICKET! Clark c Bell b Hannon-Dalby 10; Lan 154/8 - Clark thumps a Hannon-Dalby full-toss to Bell at long-on.
9.27pm - WICKET! Brown b Woakes 55; Lan 152/7 - Woakes responds with a yorker that bowls Brown. Andrew Flintoff strides to the crease. The Red Rose need 29 from the final two overs.
9.26pm - FIFTY! Brown (26b 2x4 4x6) - Brown is just about keeping Lancashire in it. He deposits a Woakes slower ball bouncer into the stand. A huge six.
9.20pm - REVIEW! - The umpire goes upstairs to see if Jordan Clark leaves his ground first ball to Patel. He is fine. The right-hander then blasts the spinner into the crowd.
9.18pm - WICKET! Horton c Ambrose b Patel 1; Lan 125/6 - Paul Horton is adjudged to have tickled Patel behind to Ambrose. The batsman is unhappy as he trudges off.
9.13pm - WICKET! Croft b Hannon-Dalby 6; Lan 118/5 - The Lancashire chase is faltering now as Steven Croft, the ball after lifting Hannon-Dalby over deep backward-square for four, misses a straight one and is bowled.
9.09pm - Brown cross-bats a slower Clarke ball for another maximum. Lancashire need more of that. With six overs left, the Red Rose require 68 to win.
Hey Jude rings out around the People's Home of Cricket #YouBears
— Warwickshire CCC (@CricketingBears) August 23, 2014
9.05pm - WICKET! Buttler c Ambrose b Hannon-Dalby 11; Lan 102/4 - Oliver Hannon-Dalby collects the scalp of Buttler in his first over, the England wicketkeeper-batsman flashing at a wide delivery and providing Tim Ambrose with a simple catch.
9.02pm - Javid returns to the attack and is immediately going round the park as Brown and Buttler cash in. The former hits a six and four towards midwicket either side of Buttler finding the cover rope.
8.55pm - WICKET! Khawaja c Evans b Rankin 16; Lan 77/3 - Khawaja pulls a short Rankin delivery to Evans at deep backward-square. He makes up for his earlier error. Here comes Jos Buttler and the Lightning need him to fire here.
8.52pm - CHANCE! - Karl Brown is given a life when Evans, running in from long-on, drops a simple chance. To add insult to injury, Khawaja then edges Patel for four and Brown sweeps for six.
8.49pm - WICKET! Prince b Rankin 30; Lan 62/2 - Prince backs away and tries to pull Rankin, only to bottom edge on to his own furniture. A huge wicket for the Bears.
8.45pm - Lancashire take 45 from the opening six-over powerplay. Usman Khawaja scoops a sweep past short fine-leg for four. Jeetan Patel is on with the Bears needing another breakthrough.
8.35pm - WICKET! Smith c Evans b Woakes 19; Lan 41/1 - Smith tries to work Woakes into the leg side, only to get a leading edge and provide Laurie Evans with a simple take at point.
8.32pm - Prince backs away and guides Boyd Rankin, in his first over, through the point region for four. The Lightning are 40 without loss after five.
8.28pm - Smith is finding his range as he cracks Rikki Clarke, replacing Woakes at the Birmingham End, over long-on for his second six.
— Lancashire CCC (@LancsCCC) August 23, 2014
8.24pm - The veteran South African clubs Javid over mid-on for another boundary. Tom Smith, with a golden duck in the first game, gets in on the act by lifting the off-spinner over his head for a maximum. This is a solid start from the Lightning.
8.20pm - Ashwell Prince looks in fine form, pulling a short Chris Woakes delivery to the rope for the first boundary. The left-hander then lobs a full-pitched delivery just over Ian Bell at cover for a couple.
8.17pm - Ateeq Javid, fresh from taking two wickets in the semi-finals, concedes just four from the opening over.
Birmingham Bears Innings
Bears finish on 181-5. In the semi-final we said Lancs would have to bowl well to win, they're going to have to bat well to do this #lancs
— Lancashire CCC (@LancsCCC) August 23, 2014
8.03pm - END OF INNINGS! Bir 181/5; Woakes 22, Javid 2 - The final two balls of the innings bring the Bears boundaries as Woakes cashes in off an expensive Anderson. A formidable total. Lancashire require 182 to win.
7.57pm - WICKET! Evans c Prince b Smith 53; Bir 170/5 - Smith gets his revenge when Evans clubs a low full-toss to Prince at deep midwicket. Has that come too little too late for the Lightning, though?
7.54pm - FIFTY! Evans (28b 2x4 4x6) - Evans hits Smith for a brace of sixes to reach a powerful half-century. The former Surrey player has dominated his fifty stand with Woakes, who has 12 to his name.
7.50pm - Anderson's return does not faze Evans one bit. He clubs the England paceman over cover for four and then crashes him over long-off for a maximum. The Bears pass 150.
7.47pm - Evans goes on the offensive against Clarke, who leaks 16 from his third over. The right-hander hits a four and six either side of the wicket to build momentum for the Bears.
7.44pm - Chris Woakes advances down the pitch to Parry and, after failing to get to the pitch of the ball, sees an edge fly past Jos Buttler for four. The Bears are 123 for four with four overs remaining. What would be a decent total from here?
7.39pm - Laurie Evans plays with fire, dropping into the leg side and running, only just surviving as Jordan Clark's throw misses the stumps. That would have been out.
7.35pm - WICKET! Clarke b Smith 27; Bir 107/4 - A ball after paddle-sweeping to Flintoff, who fails to hold on diving to his left, Clarke inside-edges Smith onto his own furniture.
7.27pm - Croft finishes with 1-17 off his allocation. Clarke rocks back and whips Parry through midwicket for the Bears' first boundary since the six-over powerplay. The right-hander then clubs the spinner over the midwicket rope.
7.23pm - WICKET! Porterfield b Parry 31; Bir 84/3 - A huge wicket for Lancashire as Porterfield is bowled round his legs trying to sweep Stephen Parry.
7.19pm - Croft has a huge lbw appeal turned down against Rikki Clarke. The batsman got an inside edge.
7.11pm - WICKET! Chopra b Croft 30; Bir 64/2 - Croft returns at the expense of Flintoff and takes the crucial wicket of the in-form Chopra. The right-hander, playing across the line, is bowled.
7.10pm - Chopra and Porterfield collect a boundary each off an Anderson over that leaks 13 runs. The Bears are 63 for one after the six-over powerplay.
7.04pm - Chopra brings Flintoff back down to earth by depositing a high no-ball for six and then Porterfield brings up the 50 with a maximum over extra-cover.
7pm - Porterfield takes consecutive boundaries either side of the wicket off Smith, replacing Anderson, to lift the Bears.
6.56pm - A great opening over from Flintoff, who concedes just three runs. Will Porterfield will be hoping to replicate his semi-final heroics now.
6.53pm - WICKET! Bell c Brown b Flintoff 4; Bir 19/1 - Flintoff strikes first ball. Bell tries to clear mid-on, but Karl Brown races back and takes a smart catch over his shoulder.
6.51pm - James Anderson versus England team-mate Bell is box office! But it is Chopra that is stealing the limelight, hitting the paceman for six and four in an over costing 14. Here comes Andrew Flintoff! The crowd erupts.
6.50pm - Varun Chopra and Ian Bell make a steady start to their innings, taking five runs from Steven Croft's opening over.
Tonight's finalists - including Flintoff - take to the field at 1845. Who's going home with the trophy? pic.twitter.com/g3ixZ6KQB0
— NatWest T20 Blast (@NatWestT20Blast) August 23, 2014
6.30pm - Despite the rain delays in the second semi-final, the showpiece is set to start on time at 6.45pm.
6.20pm - There’s barely any let-up in the action as we have the toss for the final. Birmingham captain Varun Chopra wins it and opts to bat first . The big team news is that Andrew Flintoff plays in place of the injured Kabir Ali in Lancashire’s sole alteration while the Bears are unchanged.
Ah, is the pot of gold for Warwickshire or Lancashire? pic.twitter.com/HlP0zahaYp
— John Etheridge (@JohnSunCricket) August 23, 2014