Southern Brave became the first men’s champions of The Hundred with a professional 32-run win over the favourites Birmingham Phoenix. Their effort with the bat to set 168 for five was matched by their endeavor in the field to keep the Phoenix down to just 136 for five.
Like the women’s final earlier, which the Brave lost to Oval Invincibles, it was hardly close. And there was a sense of anti-climax to how both finals panned out, even if the threat of a full washout never materialised. However, there were moments of palpable jeopardy: first when the Brave effort was stemmed to 35 for two after 32 balls, then when the Phoenix launched an assault just before the midway stage courtesy of Hundred MVP, Liam Livingstone.
Every stage has a star and there was no one better to stand astride this one here than Livingstone. The one who had embodied its “every ball counts mantra”, providing the most viral clips with the most memorable hits. He served up another when he got off the mark with a 94m six. He celebrated with another.
There would be a third and fourth, taking his tournament tally to 27. The crowd were never louder than when he was on strike: the hum of 24,556 reverberating like rubber and mesh on a speaker with the beat just before the drop instigated by the thud off his bat. Only when the actual DJ took their turn did the stands actually calm down, knowing there was a break in play to catch their breaths before Livingstone faced up again.
Arguably the most remarkable of his eight boundaries was no six at all, but a wrist-breaking slapshot to a 91mph yorker from Chris Jordan that raced to the Pavilion for four. One that spoke of the truth most bowlers had to come to terms with at some point over the last four weeks that he’s in control. And then, he wasn’t.
A strike that did not go for six landed safe. In the bedlam of a dropped catch out at deep cover, he and Moeen Ali decided to go for a second. Their 55 off 25 had brought the target of 169 within sight, runs remaining down into double figures with 99 needed off 55. But as they tried to make that 56 and 98 off the back of the mis-field, the guilty party still sprawled on the floor, Tim David – Australian born, Singapore representative and beneficiary of domestic absentees in Surrey’s Twenty20 and Royal London Cup squads, and here on Hundred debut – swooped on the loose ball and heaved towards Livingstone’s end, nailing a direct hit from all of 40 yards.
Livingstone was done, not by much, but felled for the last time with 46 from 19 balls. Run out, of all ends. In terms of dismissals for the Brave, it was the equivalent of nabbing Al Capone for tax evasion.
With Livingstone gone, so, really, was the thrill, viral moments and, ultimately, the chase. Moeen’s groove was eventually ended on 36 by Jake Lintott, the left-arm wrist-spinner (and school teacher) who had him caught by Craig Overton at long on. The significance of the catcher all the more pronounced after Overton had dropped Moeen on 15.
The Phoenix captain had some of it his own way at the start, winning the toss on a re-toss after the coin had fallen into a crevice, much to the annoyance of his opposite number James Vince who was sure the coin was landing his way. Moeen opted to bowl first and was on the right end of a good start with Quinton de Kock and Vince dismissed in single figures for a run-a-ball or worse.
Yet even with de Kock (seven off seven) and Vince (four off eight), and Adam Milne’s breakneck speed frugality of two wickets for just eight runs across his 20 balls, a score of 168 for five was compiled.
The carnage occurred without the usual leading lights, around the unhittable Milne and after a tame start with 144 coming off the final 80. Ireland’s Paul Stirling did as he does, almost striking the white off the ball with 61 from 36 which featured six sixes into the stands that still remain home, albeit as Middlesex’s overseas player during this season’s T20 Blast. This hand would net him the hero of the match.
And while Alex Davies’s 27 off 20 provided the glue between the top and lower order, his handover outright to Ross Whiteley with nine balls to go brought the carnage. Whiteley provided it in totality, swinging through the first four of the final five deliveries to strike a six down the ground and then into the second-tier at square leg. Those hits sandwiched a fortuitous inside edge for four, before a single that meant he was off strike. A mercy of sorts for the bowler Dillon Pennington, who had been offered no mates rates in an expensive final set by his Worcestershire teammate. Whiteley watched on, 44 off 19 in his back pocket and the game in possession of the Brave, 100 balls before it was confirmed as theirs outright.
For all that The Hundred promised to be, for the players within the county set-up who are far from international honours it was an opportunity that little bit closer to the big leagues where they would be able to show just how good they were. So it was fitting that Whiteley underlined his worth as a match-winning finisher and Lintott emerged more broadly as a short format whizz.
Even Livingstone, an international and franchise must-have already, can ease his woes with the knowledge that on Saturday night, even in defeat, he put the full stop on the exclamation point. After the last month, he has shown he should be one of the first names on England’s T20 teamsheet.
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