Birmingham Bears leapt to the top of the NatWest T20 Blast table with a thrilling two-run win over Northants Steelbacks at Wantage Road.
The Bears will go into the mouth-watering derby with Worcestershire Rapids at Edgbaston on Friday on the back of four successive wins after brilliant death bowling from Jeetan Patel and Aaron Thomason denied the Steelbacks the 20 runs they needed from the last two overs.
Put in, the Bears made 172 for nine thanks largely to a stand of 54 in just 29 balls from Colin de Grandhomme (37, 16 balls) and Grant Elliott (23, 18 balls). It was a good collective effort with seven different batsmen clearing the ropes for the Bears.
The Steelbacks were then given a thunderous start by Richard Levi (33 from just 13 balls) and Adam Rossington (43 from 29). But Patel spun the Bears right back into the game with wickets in successive balls and the pressure on the Steelbacks rose and rose – and eventually proved too much.
Birmingham’s batsmen were made to work hard early on, especially by Rory Kleinveldt whose skillful opening spell ended at 3-0-12-1. His wicket was that of Ed Pollock who skied a big hit and fell for 13 before Ian Bell missed a reverse-sweep at Rob Keogh and was bowled for 16.
Adam Hose continued in the spectacular vein of his debut last Sunday and reached 19 from only 10 balls but then chipped Keogh to mid-wicket.
Sam Hain’s 28 (23 balls) was ended by a run out following a mix-up between he and De Grandhomme but that brought the two Black Caps together for the best stand of the innings.
De Grandhomme struck Ben Sanderson for three successive fours and also smote three huge sixes before falling to a catch at deep mid-wicket. Elliott, Keith Barker and Jeetan Patel all cleared the ropes in the closing overs as the Bears, without having batted at their best, posted a decent total.
It looked a little under par on a good pitch and appeared seriously so after Steelbacks openers Adam Rossington and Richard Levi took five fours from the second over of the innings as they charged to 50 from 24 balls.
A clever slower ball from Thomason bowled Levi (33 from 13 balls) before Patel then struck twice in successive balls as Rossington heaved to deep mid-wicket and Ben Duckett was bowled by an absolute beauty.
Captain Alex Wakely kept his side moving forward but the Bears gradually tightened the screw as Patel delivered his four overs for 27 and De Grandhomme and Elliott bowled skilful spells.
It all came down to the very last ball from which Wakely needed to find three runs. Thomason delivered the perfect yorker which the batsmen could only dig out back to the bowler – the Bears remain on a serious roll in the NatWest T20 Blast.