“The Queen has stubble!”
Morrissey’s statement back in the eighties was heavier on the peril. But there was concern nonetheless in Birmingham on Saturday, when a jolly, grizzly-cheeked imposter was interviewed on the big screen. Behind "Queen Elizabeth" were "her" loyal subjects (the rest of his stag do) along with a sea of fictional characters - superheroes, The Simpsons, Thunderbirds and Wallys - rocking the Hollies Stand with every six, every wicket and every moment in between. They’d been there from 11am. Some even earlier, settling in for the cricket extravaganza of the year.
Like all marquee gatherings, Finals Day is a once-in-a-year event, circled at the start of the summer in the calendars of players as well as punters. The festivity you don’t want to miss. The party you just need to be on the list for. The day that means you, as a player and a side, have been doing something right. In the cases of Glamorgan, Birmingham Bears, Hampshire and Notts Outlaws - a lot.
If there is one source of inspiration for Finals Day, and indeed the T20 Blast itself, it is the Great British Night Out. Where friend and stranger bond over the spectacular - Grant Elliott flying through the air to take a catch over his shoulder - and the downright ridiculous, when Dan Christian somehow found the seats 10-rows back over extra cover with a cut shot.
When the battery life of phones are pushed to the limit, with tweet after tweet, selfie after selfie, video after video documenting each moment of revelry to look back on the morning after just so you know “that did *really* happen”. Aflred G.Rilla went back-to-back in the Mascot Race. And, of course, a sing-a-long. Does it get any better?
The best pipes in the building led the way. Bumble v Freddie. Johnny Cash v Elvis. The battle we never thought we’d see, reanimated through the game we love most. First at loggerheads, they combined to give the people what they wanted. Sweet Caroline (bump bump baarrrr), taking the roof off Edgbaston. Cricket was the winner. Music a distant second. Freddie fell over and there it closed. Perfectly. So good. So good. So good.
Not wishing to miss out, George Bailey dived right in.
During Hampshire’s semi-final, which ended in a 23-run defeat to the Outlaws, his pacing towards the Hollies presented crescendo after crescendo, moving into the ring for the left-hander and out for the rightie. The Australian’s reputation as one of the most social in the game is not unfounded. When he was done on the field, he joined his new friends in the stands for a catch-up.
Talk to the players – those that have been to Finals Day before and those who haven’t – and you’ll hear about one thing. The crowd. Whether in the Hollies or the other three corners, county cricket fans converging to cheer their teams over the line or neutrals taking in the day, nothing quite beats it. The Bears’ Chris Woakes thought home advantage would tell. Colin Ingram, on his maiden Finals Day, reckoned the experience of raucous Cardiff crowds held Glamorgan in good standing for what the atmosphere might throw at them. The same goes the other way around.
For this was a Finals Day that wowed the spectators more than ever. Over 1,000 runs were scored for the first time in the competition’s history. Glamorgan, seemingly dead and buried in the semi-final after lightning-quick spells from Bears’ duo Olly Stone and Aaron Thomason, were almost brought back from the brink by Andrew Salter.
He needed 26 from the last six balls off Woakes. He needed a miracle. And for three balls – he had it. Four and four was followed by a six over backward square leg. The beachballs that bounced around the tops of spectators heads soon fell listlessy to the floor. The crowd stood to attention. Next ball, Salter heaves down the ground. “What’s happened?” asked someone from the back back of the press box, unable to see right down in front because of the angle of the drop. Two fielders converged – one (Adam Hose) banged into the other (Dom Sibley). One (Hose) of them had it and didn’t let go.
Shahid Afridi opened the batting for Hampshire again after destroying Derbyshire with 101 in the semi-final - his first T20 hundred. Chasing 170 to beat the Outlaws, he heaved his first ball straight to Alex Hales. Diamond duck. Samit Patel, the bowler, wheeled away in celebration. He was just getting started.
He’d earlier notched 35 in the first innings, batting with ease but not much hurry. He more than made up for that in the final.
The Bears were rampant on their home patch. Hales, Riki Wessels, Tom Moores – all three fell to Woakes before Patel, aided by Brendan Taylor, put on Finals Day’s best ever stand of 132 for the fourth wicket. Patel finished unbeaten with 64 from 42 and Christian with an unthinkable eight-ball assault that saw him pillage 24.
In the field, Patel confirmed that the day would be his. Ed Pollock, freshly 22 and with a left-handed whip over square leg we’ll all happily get used to seeing, had started the day with 50 from 27 to see off Glamorgan. If he went again, the Outlaw’s 190 might not be as far away as it seemed. A misjudgement in the middle gave Patel the chance, as Pollock tried to get back to the non-striker’s end. Patel threw, the stumps flashed and that, in essence, was that.
Sam Hain’s 72 came in vain as the Outlaws closed out the game in style and spent the rest of the evening and morning toasting their first T20 win and a white-ball double that may soon become an all-ball treble. Luke Fletcher, season sickeningly ended at Edbaston earlier this summer, put it best on Sunday morning.
“Today is going to be a long one!! For the second time this season I've left Birmingham with a sore head 😩😩😩”
He and his fellow Outlaws weren’t the only ones to find Sunday a struggle. And, much like the rest, when the headaches subside, the memories from one of the most spectacular Finals Day will take over and stay there forever.
Here’s to doing it all again in September!