Three-quarters of the way through the final round of T20 Blast games, the Birmingham Bears could have been forgiven for putting the champagne on ice and readying the party poppers.
After Adam Hose’s magnificent century had lifted the Edgbaston side from 20-4 to 191-5, a good start to the defence had reduced Northants Steelbacks to 71-6 at the halfway stage of the chase.
Somerset too seemed to be cruising. They had made 161 in the first innings of the West Country derby against Gloucestershire and reduced the Bristol side to 80-5 in reply. A win would virtually guarantee progress for the Cidermen, and with 73 needed from six overs, that looked a likely bet.
Ian Cockbain, as he has done throughout the Blast, blazed away to keep Gloucestershire in contention, but when he fell for 89 off 57, Gloucestershire still needed 13 off the last over. Benny Howell, more known for his array of variations than his exploits with bat in hand, clubbed two fours to make it two needed off three, before holing out off the penultimate ball. But Tom Smith, facing his first ball, found the fence to hand heartbreak to Somerset.
Somerset’s loss only made the path clearer for the Bears. Even if the unthinkable happened, and the Steelbacks staged a comeback, Durham and Leicestershire Foxes seemed to be on the way to healthy defeats in the North Group, meaning the Bears would progress as the second best third placed team.
The Foxes looked dead and buried after 15 overs of Lancashire Lightning’s chase, with Steven Croft and Alex Davies set. They needed 43 to win from five overs with nine wickets in hand, a doddle by modern standards. But Colin Ackermann claimed three wickets in an over, before catching Dane Vilas off the bowling of Dieter Klein, and his side were right back in it. They didn’t concede a single boundary in the last five overs of the innings, eventually registering a 22-run win.
Meanwhile, at Edgbaston, something even more extraordinary was happening. Rob Keogh and Tom Taylor, the latter on Northants debut, combined for a staggering stand of 69 runs in 5.4 overs. Still, when Jake Lintott prised out Keogh for 37, it seemed the game was gone, with 52 needed from 27 balls. It wasn’t so. Graeme White, coming in at No.9, played the cameo to end all cameos, smashing four sixes in his first five balls, and all of a sudden Northants had all the momentum.
He would end with 37 off 12, and Taylor with 50 off 27 as the Steelbacks cruised home with all of seven balls to spare.
That left the Bears in third place in the Central Group, tied with Leicestershire in the North Group on 11 points, with the Foxes progressing with a superior net run rate. Unbearable, you might say.