By Nigel Gardner
Ian Bell’s excellent 67 steered the Birmingham Bears to a thrilling four wicket victory off the final ball of the NatWest Blast T20 match against the Derbyshire Falcons at Derby.
The Bears appeared to be coasting in pursuit of the Falcons 141 for 7 when Bell was leading the chase but his dismissal in the 19th over left the game in the balance and it needed a four from Ateeq Javid off the last ball to deny the home side.
Former Derbyshire captain Rikki Clarke had taken 2 for 17 off four overs as the Falcons struggled in the first part of their innings before Wayne Madsen with 38 from 34 balls and some late blows from Shiv Thakor took them to a challenging score on a slow pitch.
The Falcons innings began with Clarke striking Billy Godleman on the helmet with the first ball before the opener pulled Oliver Haannon-Dolby to deep midwicket.
Chesney Hughes pulled Clarke for six but two balls later drove low to mid off where Ian Bell took a good catch and Clarke struck again when Neil Broom top-edged a pull to cover in the fifth over.
The accuracy of the Bears attack restricted the Falcons to 58 for 3 at the halfway point and Madsen responded by lifting Jetan Patel over midwicket for six before pulling Mark Adair just past the diving Chris Woakes for four.
Madsen dispatched another short ball from Patel for six but Hamish Rutherford was lbw in the same over for 33 from 31 balls when he tried to work the off-spinner behind square.
Adair ended Madsen’s innings when a top-edged pull landed in the gloves of Luke Ronchi and although Jimmy Neesham drove the next ball high into the stands, he edged a drive in the next over and was well caught by Ronchi diving low to his left.
Thakor gave the innings a late flourish by pulling Hannon-Dalby and Woakes for sixes in an unbeaten 20 from 13 balls as 26 came from the last two overs to give the Falcons a respectable total.
But Ian Bell and Sam Hain gave the Bears an excellent start by taking 44 from the first five overs with Bell taking three fours off consecutive balls from Thakor.
Bell drove Matt Critchley over long on for six but the leg-spinner struck three balls later when Hain sliced a drive to cover although after 10 overs, the Bears were well placed at 73 for 1.
Alex Hughes should have removed Bell on 42 but Broom at deep midwicket spilled the catch diving forward and he completed his 50 from 39 balls before Laurie Evans became the latest batsman to top-edge a pull.
Bell drove Andy Carter for six but Ronchi drove Alex Hughes to long off in the 18th over and Bell holed out to long on in the next to give the Falcons a chance of victory with the Bears needing
Aaron Thomason scooped Neesham to square leg and although the next ball shot through for four byes, Woakes was run out going for a second off the penultimate ball but Javid’s drive beat the bowler’s despairing dive to clinch victory.
Bears director of cricket Dougie Brown said: “It was a lot tighter than it should have been but credit to Derbyshire, they stuck in there and bowled really well in the middle period. We maybe could have been more clinical with our partnerships but that’s T20 cricket.
“Fortunately we’ve come out on top but I would have been very disappointed if we had not got across the line having played as well as we had for the majority of the game.
“It took a fairly calm head from Ateeq Javid to get that final boundary off the last ball but we do pride ourselves on having a pretty mature lower order who can come in and play under a lot of pressure and that’s exactly what they did.”