By Callum Dent
Birmingham Bears skipper Varun Chopra ranks the NatWest T20 Blast triumph on home soil as one of the finest moments of his career.
The Bears made home advantage count by following up their 16-run victory over Surrey in the last four with a narrow four-run win over Lancashire Lightning in the showpiece.
Chopra has had a huge amount of success since arriving at Edgbaston from Essex in 2010, winning LV= County Championship Division One with Warwickshire two years later.
And the 27-year-old believes victory in front of their home fans will be one that lasts in his memory forever.
He said: “It is right up there with winning the championship. Lifting the trophy was special and is something I will remember for the rest of my life.
“It’s still settling in. It was a really good day. It was amazing. We were well supported throughout and the noise at the end made it really difficult to get people’s attention on the field.
“Credit to the club for throwing such a good event; the wicket was fantastic.
“We were really poor in one-day cricket last year so the only way was up. To turn it around was some effort from the lads.”
Chopra believes a change in attitude to the sprint format this term has reaped its rewards.
The Bears altered their name to Birmingham and opted to sign a second overseas player in Shoaib Malik to boost their chances of a successful campaign.
That all came to fruition today when the Bears, without Malik due to Caribbean Premier League commitments, secured their maiden T20 title, having lost to Surrey in the inaugral event back in 2003.
Chopra added: “The whole attitude of the club for T20 this year has been different, with the second overseas and not resting players like we have done in recent years.
“We have definitely taken it more seriously this year and the results have shown.”
After advancing past Surrey, the Bears were faced with the challenge of Lancashire.
Opening batsman Chopra gave his side a solid start with 30 before Laurie Evans blasted 53 from 30 balls to lift the Bears to an imposing 181 for five.
In reply, Lancashire seemed to be off the pace until former England skipper Andrew Flintoff, recalled due to an injury to Kabir Ali, arrived at the crease.
The 36-year-old struck the last two balls of the penultimate over, bowled by Oliver Hannon-Dalby, for six to leave 14 required from the final six deliveries.
However, current England all-rounder Chris Woakes delivered a fine set of six to ensure the Bears prevailed.
Chopra said: “I had full faith in Woakesy. To see a couple of strikes from Freddie at the end, you thought maybe it could have been his script.
“What was going to happen, was going to happen. There was nothing much I could do at backward point. I tried to be calm and hope the team feeds off that.”
Congratulations Birmingham Bears...what a day! pic.twitter.com/fFipSBw5Wg
— NatWest Cricket Chap (@NatWest_Cricket) August 23, 2014
Director of cricket Dougie Brown was part of the Warwickshire side that lost the T20 final at Trent Bridge 11 years ago.
Now, having retired from cricket, Brown accepts it is a lot more tense watching on from the sidelines.
He said: “It is much more nerve-racking. You know you cannot influence when the guys are on the field. It is equally pleasing. I have a different role now. It’s fantastic.
“The guys deserve all the credit going because they held their nerve when they were under the pump in the middle.”
Having now won the Blast, the Bears are in a strong position to add more silverware to their cabinet.
They currently occupy third spot in the championship and have a Royal London One-Day Cup quarter-final to look forward to on Thursday against Essex Eagles.
Brown is refusing to look too far ahead just yet, though, adding: “We are not really talking about it. Coming into today we knew we were playing good cricket and in a good space.
“We had achieved a lot, but in the same time achieved nothing. When we sit here now, we know we have achieved something.
“But we still have a lot to play for. We are keeping it pretty short-term and looking at the next game.
“We are going to enjoy tonight, then dust ourselves down and get back into it on Thursday.”