Despite Afridi’s four-wicket over, Birmingham advances to the home quarterfinal

Four wickets were taken by Shaheen Shah Afridi

Despite losing four wickets to Pakistani star Shaheen Shah Afridi in the first over of their innings as they chased 169 to win, Birmingham Bears secured a home quarterfinal in the Vitality Blast with a two-wicket victory against North Group opponents Notts Outlaws at a rainy Trent Bridge.

Shaheen Shah Afridi, who at 23 is already regarded as one of the best bowlers in the world in this format, gave away five wides with his first ball before taking wickets with his first, second, fifth, and sixth legal deliveries, leaving the Bears, who were already assured of a spot in the knockout stages after five straight victories prior to this, reeling at seven for four.

In contrast, opener Rob Yates put together a composed 65 from 46 balls with five sixes that ultimately proved to be the foundation for a victory completed with five balls to spare with crucial runs from Jacob Bethell (27) and Jake Lintott (27 not out) in the middle and later stages of the innings. This came after the Outlaws lost their England quick Olly Stone after bowling just three balls on his comeback from injury.

Asked to bat first after scoring few runs in their previous three games, the Outlaws were dealt a blow when Alex Hales continued his own poor run by cutting on to Henry Brookes for four. However, Joe Clarke and Lyndon James found some late momentum in the powerplay, with James clearing the Larwood and Voce Stand with a huge six over midwicket off Brookes.

However, after six overs and being 61 for 1, the Bears’ spinners again checked them, and when the Outlaws reached the halfway point at 86 for 3, Lintott bowled both Clarke (26) and Matt Montgomery in successive overs.

Although left-arm wrist spinner Lintott gave Moores a life on 21 when he dropped what should have been a simple boundary catch off Olly Hannon-Dalby, he picked up his third Blast wicket when James, in his most successful Blast innings to date, cut straight to the rear end for 37.

The wicket-keeper capitalized on that and another stroke of good fortune on 28 when a steepler off Glenn Maxwell was dropped safe by smashing sixes off Maxwell, Lintott, and Hannon-Dalby twice as 45 was added in the final six overs, turning out to be an expensive miss in the context of the innings.

But that came at the expense of losing six wickets, as Pakistani international Ali ended his time with the Bears by bowling Moores with the final ball of the innings after Maxwell had removed Imad Wasim and Shaheen Shah Afridi via a catch at long-on and had dismissed Steven Mullaney by having him run out. The final three balls of the innings also all produced wickets, with Matt Carter being caught leg before and Steven Mullaney being caught on the fence.

Any hopes the Bears had for a simple night seemed to be dashed in Afridi’s extraordinary first over, which started with five wides but then saw Alex Davies yorked and Chris Benjamin bowled while trying to scoop off the first two legal deliveries, followed by two singles and another two wickets off the final two balls, with Dan Mousley falling victim to a stunning one-handed catch by Stone at short cover and Ed Barnard being castled first ball by another stunning yorker.

More drama ensued when Stone, who was returning to the Blast after a long absence due to a hamstring injury, was forced to leave the pitch after just bowling three balls. With sixes off both Carter and Ball, Yates started to establish himself. However, Maxwell bottom-edged a ball off of Ball into his stumps, leaving the Bears at 60 for 5.

Rain interrupted play with the visitors at 76 for 5 after seven overs, and thanks to Afridi’s heroics, the Bears were three runs behind where they needed to be on the DLS chart. However, the break, which ultimately cost no overs, gave the Bears time to collect themselves, and at 101 for 5 after ten overs, with Yates having completed a 27-ball fifty that included four sixes, they were starting to look favorites.

The outcome was once again in doubt after Bethell was carelessly run out in the 12th over with 51 needed from 50 balls, but as the required run rate dropped to 34 from the final five overs, it became clear that the Outlaws had to get rid of Yates if they wanted to avoid losing.

Ultimately, they managed to get rid of him with the very next ball when the left-hander lofted a delivery from Ball into the air, and Clarke made a superb diving catch at cover as Yates was dismissed for 65. With two overs left, Ball once more gave the home team hope when he got rid of Ali, but Henry Brookes scored the game-winning boundary off Imad in the last over.