Worcestershire 188 for 1 (Moeen 85*) beat Birmingham Bears 184 for 5 (Hose 48) by nine wickets
At least one England batsman was a picture of charm and grace after a desperate Ashes day. The only problem was that it was Moeen Ali, not required at Headingley, but instead refreshed by a bit of an August break and playing with grace and charm to win an engrossing West Midlands derby in the Vitality Blast.
Moeen is a World Cup winner, with 186 England appearances to his name, but for all that experience he never appears more at home than in this fixture. His unbeaten 85 from 46 balls, allied to a half-century from Riki Wessels, immaculately judged a difficult run chase as Worcestershire overhauled Birmingham’s 184 for 5 with eight balls to spare.
Moeen certainly enjoys facing his former county and last season hit centuries in the Royal London One-Day Cup and Vitality Blast matches at Edgbaston.
Worcestershire go second in North Group and, along with Lancashire and Notts, are well placed to reach the quarter-finals by the time the group stages end next Friday: Moeen, unlikely to win an Ashes recall, can concentrate his thoughts on leading them to successive Finals Days. Birmingham, now eighth, are left to scrap with the rest and can console themselves that none of their rivals are posturing with intent.
Blast crowds are on the up and around 12,000 at Edgbaston witnessed a match that was in doubt until deep into the contest. With 34 needed off four overs, Alex Thomson conceded 20 – Moeen strking successive sixes over long-on – and that was that.
Worcestershire were under pressure when they required 80 off eight overs, but Moeen targeted Will Rhodes’ first over, which went for 19. A conservative over against Henry Brookes seemed too close for comfort, but when the boundaries were essential, Worcestershire found them: Moeen’s straight six off Jeetan Patel with 51 needed from 32, or Wessels’ leg-side drag against Oliver Hannon-Dalby to leave 34 off 24.
Moeen stroked six sixes, five of them down the ground, while Wessels, typically, found innumerable ways to deflect and drag the ball square of the wicket. Wessels came close to falling lbw when he failed to reverse sweep Chris Green on 39, and Moeen plopped a ball or two into the open spaces, but for the most part their judgment was impeccable
“I always felt we were one big over away from winning it,” Moeen said. “There was a bit of dew around and it wasn’t easy for their spinners. It’s always nice to be back playing for Worcestershire. I’ve just been going back to basics a bit.”
Thoughts did not just alight on an England player currently jettisoned, but also on those who might yet be called up to reinforce a frivolous batting line-up. If Jason Roy can make a case for Test inclusion solely because of the splendour of his limited-overs form then with England in an Ashes pickle, Dominic Sibley must have had designs on a persuasive 30-odd in a T20 derby? After all, there is no Championship cricket to be had at the moment, so absurd as it sounds how is he meant to do it?
Sibley, uncapped and, compared to Roy, unheralded, is a batsman designed for the long haul. He is leading the chase to 1000 runs in Division One, with 949 runs at 55.82, ahead of Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance and Hampshire’s Sam Northeast, but it’s unclear if anybody is all that interested.
He began in such orthodox fashion against Worcestershire that it briefly looked as if he actually thought he was on Test debut. Sadly, for collectors of cricketing oddities, he then he awoke to his task in hand and charged down the pitch to swing Pat Brown over midwicket into the Hollies Stand. Then he upped the ante, missed a sweep against Ed Barnard, wandered out his crease in vague expectation of a run and was stumped. Twelve runs off 14, as they say at Headingley, where England’s batting had been vanquished earlier in the day, was “neither nowt nor summat”.
If Sibley had a unmemorable night, the Bears’ batting line-up had one of their most productive nights of an up-and-down campaign. Sam Hain, Adam Hose, Matthew Lamb and Mark Burgess all energised the innings in turn.
Hain has had an extraordinarily consistent tournament with nine innings between 21 and 85, but although he comfortabley tops Birmingham’s run chart with 382 at 42.44, he is only striking at 119. The impression lingers that he is always driving himself forward, never entirely content with his scoring rate, and when he advanced to Dillon Pennington and popped him into the hands of deep midwicket, he left with another condemnatory shake of the head, one caused primarily by healthy ambition.
Hose showed a bigger hitting range. His 48 from 23 included two sixes apiece off Moeen and Barnard. He hit Barnard for two sixes in an over, the second of which struck a spectator in the face at long-on. As if momentarily losing concentration, he changed tack and was caught off extra cover, trying to clear the infield.
Lamb hunted out the short leg-side boundary – when he wasn’t threatening to injure the Worcestershire attack with straight drives. Pennington, sensible lad, ducked out of the way of a straight drive. Brown, stopped the next straight drive with his shin, grimaced his way through a third over, and never made the fourth. Birmingham had a score to reckon with, but they didn’t reckon with Moeen.