Worcestershire 161 for 6 (Barnard 42*) Nottinghamshire 133 for 9 (Hales 52, Moeen 4-18)
Ed Barnard wasted no time in pronouncing himself a Twenty20 cricketer of England potential with vital interventions with bat, ball and in the field as Worcestershire began their defence of their Vitality Blast crown with an emphatic 28-run victory over Notts Outlaws in front of a near-capacity crowd at Trent Bridge.
This was a poor Twenty20 pitch, used, slow and grippy and not remotely in keeping with the sort of batsman-friendly surfaces that have made T20 nights at Trent Bridge one of the heaviest-scoring venues of the Blast.
But Worcestershire assessed it with great intelligence, posting 161 for 6, far more than they had anticipated thanks to Barnard’s late intervention with an unbeaten 42 from 19 balls, and then defending it with ease. Three overs from the end of their innings, they were 117 for 6 and vulnerable, but he changed the face of the game.
As Moeen Ali, Worcestershire’s captain, back immediately after England’s World Cup success, remarked: “It was the performance of a side that won the tournament last year, a side with a lot of confidence.”
Notts are rooted to the foot of Division One of the Championship, 38 points adrift with only four matches remaining and seemingly bound for relegation. Any imagining that the arrival of T20 would be a miraculous cure were rudely dispelled. It is a long tournament – 14 group games – but limp dismissals from two high-profile signings, Joe Clarke and Ben Duckett, set the tone on the opening night for a disappointing batting display.
To his credit, at least Alex Hales has returned to county cricket ready for the fray. He was blackballed from England’s World Cup squad in the most clinical fashion after his failing of a second drugs test, following other misdemeanours, led those in charge to conclude that he had become a liability.
He has kept a low profile, but the evidence of his 52 from 34 balls suggested he is one Notts batsman in good frame of mind. When he twice slog-swept Brett D’Oliveira for six, he had positioned himself for victory, only to be bowled by Barnard as he made room to cut him through the offside.
That opened the way for Moeen to settle the match with 4 for 6 in his last two overs, by doing little more than hitting consistent areas. His first wicket owed much to Barnard’s electric fielding as he dashed 20 yards to his left from long-off to pluck a diving catch to dismiss Jake Libby.
Dan Christian’s first-ball nought again emphasised Worcestershire’s sharpness in the field as his inside-edge onto his thigh was brilliantly collected to his right by the wicketkeeper, Ben Cox. In Moeen’s final over, withy 59 needed off five, Tom Moores and Samit Patel went for broke and both holed out.
As an aside, it was worth wondering whether the racists (because some were) who denounced Moeen on social media for quite cheerfully opting out of England’s champagne-shaking celebrations to mark the winning of the World Cup would even know or care that four days later he was back in county cricket, skippering Worcestershire with an air of calm and playing as much country cricket as his international commitments allow.
The World Cup has made additional demands on pitches at international venues, and Notts have limited outground options to lighten the load. It is to be hoped this is not a sign of things to come at the bigger venues.
Barnard found an answer to it. At 23, this slender allrounder is of an age where he can convince England of his attributes as a T20 cricketer. His flourish with the bat was a gem, carrying them to 161 for 6 when they must have felt 150 was optimistic; an innings of dexterity and common sense.
Barnard was the dominant partner in a stand of 59 from 30 balls with Ben Cox, rescuing Worcestershire from 102 for 6 after 15.2 overs. They had run aground on a grippy pitch which played into the hands of Harry Gurney, but Barnard dealt with his mix of slower offcutters with intelligence, running him through slips to the boundary as only 15 came off his first three overs. In Gurney’s last over he switched mood, 18 runs lost as he struck him over midwicket for six and then added a Buttler-esque scoop to the next ball for good measure.
Martin Guptill would value the taste of victory, too. He had a modest World Cup – 186 runs at 20.66 – but before the match became the latest New Zealand player to respond to their desperately unlucky World Cup final loss in philosophical fashion. The gist of his remarks was that, as the beers went down, New Zealand had found contentment in the recognition that we had shared in one of the greatest one-day games in history.
Guptill’s share at Trent Bridge was 22 from 24 balls, in an innings in which he was starved of the strike before he hit a full toss from Luke Wood back to the bowler. It could have been worse; before he had scored, he survived a run-out appeal by about an inch, the first sign for weeks that his luck might be on the turn.