Birmingham Phoenix 148 for 7 (Moeen 40) beat London Spirit 144 for 6 (Crawley 64) by three wickets
Birmingham Phoenix rose to the occasion to crown the first Hundred double-header with a win for the home side in front of Edgbaston's packed stands. Having limited London Spirit to 144 for 6, despite Zak Crawley hitting the first half-century of the men's tournament, Phoenix's chase was set up by a measured 40 off 30 from their captain, Moeen Ali, before the unheralded Warwickshire batter Chris Benjamin fired them across the line with three balls to spare.
Moeen had opted to chase, in the hope of getting a look at the surface (and the format) and planning accordingly. His strike bowler, Adam Milne, set the tone by conceding just three scoring shots from his first 10 balls, on the way to an impressive 2 for 18 and although Crawley held the innings together with 64 off 40, Spirit looked a little light.
The Phoenix chase made a stuttering start, with both openers gone inside the Powerplay and the in-form Liam Livingstone falling for 19 off 15, having hit one monstrous six into the second tier of the pavilion. Moeen's dismissal looked set to swing things Spirit's direction, only for Benjamin - the 22-year-old who only made his T20 debut for Birmingham Bears on this ground a week ago - to produce a dazzling and decisive cameo.
With 23 needed from 13, Benjamin audaciously reverse-scooped Blake Cullen for six, then casually swatted another over the ropes at deep backward square to bring the requirement down to 11 from the final ten. Benny Howell also struck two vital sixes to ease home nerves, with Benjamin unbeaten on 24 from 15 when Milne came out to hit the winning boundary.
Crawley's first ball in the Hundred was a 90mph delivery from Milne that he gamely attempted to thrash through the covers, only to be beaten by some seam movement. He played and missed at his second and finally got off strike from his fourth, before finding his range against Tom Helm in the second five, smashing the first of Spirit's six sixes off his legs.
With Josh Inglis, who had been dropped off his first ball from Milne, falling to the New Zealander in his second set, and Dan Lawrence striking Helm over the rope at deep extra cover before skying to backward point, it was left to Crawley to give his side some momentum during the Powerplay, collecting three consecutive fours off Helm and Howell to leave Spirit on 41 for 2.
While the Londoners struggled to put together partnerships - their highest was 38 from 28 balls between Crawley and Ravi Bopara - their Kent opener was the constant, batting right through to the 99th delivery of the innings. He said afterwards that he found the spinners easier to score against, despite taking Helm for 18 from six deliveries before finally miscuing a slower ball to deep midwicket. He swept effectively against Imran Tahir's legspin, bringing up his fifty with slogged six, and ensured that Spirit would have something to bowl at despite no one else passing 25.
Milne and boom!
New Zealand quick Milne was only signed by Kent in June for the Vitality Blast as a replacement for Mohammad Amir - playing in this match for London Spirit - because of a clash with the rearranged Pakistan Super League. Milne was then drafted in by Phoenix earlier this month because of Shaheen Shah Afridi's withdrawal due to international commitments.
Milne may not be quite such a box office name (he's an unassuming Kiwi, after all), but he has all the tools to put his name in lights during the Hundred. His 90mph-plus spell with the new ball saw just six runs come off the bat across two sets of five, and he later returned to deliver 10 consecutively between 81 and 90, showcasing his stamina as well as some canny changes of pace. He capped the display by foxing Bopara with a back-of-the-hand slower ball and then holding on to a brilliant reflex catch one-handed in his follow through.
Not only was he the only bowler in the match to go at less than a run a ball, Milne conceded just two boundaries as well as having two straightforward catches dropped off his bowling. He already looks a canny signing.
Moeen going, Benjamin pops up
At the halfway stage of the Phoenix chase, the home side were 74 for 3, with Moeen just beginning to find his range. Roelof van der Merwe, a left-arm spinner turning the ball into Moeen's arc, was brought on for the 11th set of five, and promptly watched his as first delivery was crashed over long-on for six - leaving Phoenix needing 65 from 49.
But Mohammad Nabi applied the brakes by conceding only six runs between 61 and 70, as well as removing Daniel Bell-Drummond, and when Moeen was brilliantly removed by van der Merwe via a running, sprawling catch from Bopara at long-off, the Phoenix requirement began to creep north once again. At the three-quarter stage of the innings, Birmingham needed 43 from 25, and it required timely blows from Howell off Chris Wood and van der Merwe to keep the target within range.
It might still have got away from them, had it not been for Benjamin, who only signed a rookie contract with Warwickshire a few weeks ago, and was then called into the Phoenix set-up as an injury replacement for Adam Hose. Going into this match, he didn't even feature in their squad on the official Hundred website - though you suspect most of those in the 12,137-strong crowd will now know who he is.
Both of the opening matches in this format at The Oval went over the official two-and-a-half hour running time - though not by so much as the attract the interest of the umpires. But with the speed of games considered a major selling point, expect much talk over the coming weeks about how close teams are to missing the cut-off time, by which point they are expected to have started bowling the final set of five balls.
In the women's match at Edgbaston, the home side were forced to have one fewer fielder outside the ring from the 94th ball because they were behind the rate (not that deep fielders were really the issue with five needed). The same happened to London Spirit in the men's game, as Eoin Morgan tried to manage his resources - although by the time the penalty was imposed, Phoenix needed one to win and Morgan had all his men in anyway. In large part, Spirit's issues came down to the six wides and a no-ball delivered by Amir, whose second set of five actually encompassed nine deliveries. Another thing for us all to get our heads around.