On Friday 17th August 2018, it was the end of the Birmingham Bears’ T20 Blast campaign finishing sixth in the North group with thirteen points. After fourteen games there were six wins, seven losses and one rather extraordinary tie to sum up a mixed season for the Bears. Last year, they were runners up after being defeated in the final by Notts Outlaws and I was hoping to see them at Finals Day this year but sadly this won’t be the case.
Returning to the squad from last year were New Zealand’s Grant Elliott who skippered all season as well as the big man, Colin de Grandhomme.
Game by Game in Short
The campaign begun with a fantastic win against Notts Outlaws. Bears won the toss and decided to have a bowl and teenage quick Henry Brookes started off the bowling taking a wicket on his fourth ball. This kid looks dangerous. De Grandhomme took two wickets at an economy of 6.00 making him the best bowler for the Bears and Notts batsman Riki Wessels topped the batting with 41 runs. Notts made 155-7. In return, Ed Pollock and Ian Bell strode out to the middle and Pollock hit two sixes before being dismissed but only two wickets fell in the reply; the other being Adam Hose. Bell’s 82 not out and Sam Hain’s 45 not out helped chase down the total in 17.2 overs.
Two days later the team lost a tightly fought game away against rivals Worcestershire Rapids. They won the toss again and elected to have a bowl but it took almost five overs for the first wicket to fall which was Rapids’ Joe Clarke who was caught behind off the bowling of Brookes. Worcestershire made 192-7 with New Zealand’s Martin Guptill top scoring for them with 51 runs. Brookes, de Grandhomme and Oliver Hannon-Dalby all took two wickets. From their twenty overs, the Bears made 188 for the loss of nine handing the Rapids a four run victory. Hain top scored for the Bears with seventy runs.
The home games begun with parachutists the Red Devils delivering the match ball and it was an easy win for the Bears against Yorkshire Vikings. For the third time in a row, the Bears won the toss and elected to bowl first with the Vikings making 157-7 and Hannon-Dalby taking three wickets. The only Yorkshire batsman who made an impact was Gary Ballance who made 79 runs. In reply, the Bears chased the total in 15.5 overs and only losing two wickets – including Ed Pollock who made 39 runs off only 14 balls! Bell and Hose both got their half centuries.
It was a Friday 13th to forget when Birmingham Bears lost by one hundred runs against Leicestershire Foxes at home. Bears won the toss and elected to field but the Foxes made a staggering 229 for the loss of five with Ben Raine scoring a century before being caught and bowled by de Grandhomme. Hannon-Dalby took two wickets. The Bears were all out for 129 with Pollock top scoring with a mere 25.
Two days later, Durham Jets won the toss and elected to bat first at Edgbaston making 220-6. Graham Clark made 65 for the Jets before getting out to skipper Grant Elliott who took three wickets overall. The Bears gave the reply a good go with Hain scoring a career best 95 and de Grandhomme hitting a quick fire 63 – including four sixes off an Imran Tahir over – but it wasn’t quite enough and it was another loss for the team.
The next match was an incredible tie at home against Northants Steelbacks. Both sides made 231-5 with Northants batting first, Richard Levi making 95 and Aaron Thomason got three wickets on his return from injury. The match may have been a draw but it was one to remember for Bell who made an incredible score of 131! Hose also did well with 64.
Next, it was a rain affected match at Headingly against the Vikings. Bears’ bowlers conceded over two hundred runs once again but Elliott, Chris Woakes and Boyd Rankin all took two however the damage was already done by Tom Kohler-Cadmore. Yorkshire were 226-8 off their twenty. In reply, they batted 176 off eighteen overs before being taken off for rain and the Vikings won by 31 runs DLS method. Bell and Hose both fell just short of their 50s.
Their away game against Leicestershire Foxes was a good one with finally a win for the Bears! They begun by bowling the Foxes all out for 143 with Olly Stone taking three wickets a positive for him during his injury riddled season. The score was chased down in 14.2 overs with only two wickets falling. Hose hit another good score, this time it was 66 off only 34 balls.
It was a low scoring game at the County Ground in Derby against the Falcons. Derbyshire only made 143-9 with Elliott taking an incredible 3-16 off his four overs! Sadly, the reply was pretty abysmal and it was definitely a match for the bowlers. The Bears lost by sixteen runs but it was another half century for Bell who scored 65 runs but sadly to no avail.
The Bears opened proceedings by batting first away in Northampton which was rare across the tournament. They posted 187-7 with England’s Chris Woakes hitting a maiden T20 half-century for his side and finishing not out on 57. In reply, despite Josh Cobb’s century Northants could not get over the line and only made 170 off their twenty. It was another three wickets for Elliott that got the Bears a victory.
On Thursday 9th the Bears welcomed the Outlaws back to Edgbaston to replay last year’s final. The result was very different as the home side won after some tight bowling Notts made 152-8 – Hannon-Dalby taking three. After 16.2 overs the Bears comfortably chased down the score with Bell making another half-century and de Grandhomme narrowly missing out of his with a score of 49 hitting five sixes.
The next evening, it was an away game against Lancashire Lightning which saw the Bears’ quarter final hopes slipping away. Lightning posted 185-5 with Alex Thomson taking four wickets on debut for Birmingham but sadly his first game was a loss. The Bears were all out for 148, Hose making the only notable contribution with 45.
A few days later they hosted Lancashire at Edgbaston and it was the last win of the campaign for Birmingham but it was a good one. The men in red were all out for 102 after nineteen overs with the big man, Hannon-Dalby, impressing again taking four wickets with an economy of only 5.00. The Bears chased down the score in 14.1 overs, Pollock top scored with 36. It was a match for the bowlers.
Birmingham Bears concluded the tournament with a highly attended local derby at Edgbaston against the Rapids. Sadly it was a loss by fifteen runs. Worcestershire batted first making a score of 209-5 with England star Moeen Ali making a mockery of the bowlers with a magnificent century for him. Josh Poysden took three wickets in his final match for the Bears as he is off to Yorkshire to continue his career. In reply, the bears scored 194-7 with Hose top scoring again with 45 runs.
Stats with the Bat
Stats with the Ball (All Wicket Takers)
Players of Note
Hands down the player of the campaign for the Bears was Ian Bell who scored 580 runs at an average of just over 48. The only player so far (at the time of writing) who has scored more is Australia’s Aaron Finch for Surrey who has hit 589 runs. This is an incredible achievement for Bell especially because he is a touch player not the sort to hit it out of the park. He hit his first T20 century and there are murmurs of people wanting him back in the England test side following his summer form.
At 25-years-old, Adam Hose has had the best Blast campaign of his career so far with 377 runs at an average of 31.42 including three half centuries. He has been a man that the Bears have depended on throughout the season but hasn’t been hailed on social media but his stats per game show that he is a vital player for the team. Opener, Ed Pollock is also a person of note. He has been the perfect player to open the batting by smashing the opposition bowlers out of the park but is yet to make a half century. He is an important player but I am sure he and the back room staff at Warwickshire will want him to be able to stick around for a few more overs out in the middle.
England star Chris Woakes was available for four games of the Blast for the Bears following his recovery from injury. But surprisingly it wasn’t his bowling which is worth mentioning but his battle with the bat. He hit his maiden T20 half-century winning the match for the Bears before returning for England duty. A player who could be following in his footsteps in sporting an England shirt is Sam Hain. The youngster has already appeared several times in the Lions side and it is because of his fantastic county performances. It was a pleasure watching him hit 95 against Durham this season which included a six which disappeared over the infamous Eric Hollies stand at Edgbaston.
Now let’s look at the bowling performances. Injuries have riddled the side this season with Olly Stone, Henry Brookes and Aaron Thomason all missing matches because of various issues. Brookes is ruled out of the rest of the season following a stress fracture which is a shame because the eighteen-year-old is showing a lot of promise with his incredible pace. Stone is also very quick and if both of these players stay fit next season then the Bears will be very dangerous. Both took seven wickets a piece.
Thomason isn’t very quick but accurate. In his eight matches he took twelve wickets making him very valuable for the team. A bowler who has had fantastic season – when picked – is Oliver Hannon-Dalby. This campaign I’ve watched him bowl some incredible spells and he has taken some very important wickets at times. With sixteen throughout the campaign he isn’t quite the Bears’ leading wicket taker but he has shown his importance. Next season, I would play him every match.
Lastly, the overseas players. The three New Zealanders. Spinner Jeetan Patel hasn’t really been in the wickets this season which I am sure will disappoint him but he has kept the runs down and always has a good economy. Josh Poysden in my opinion was better than him this season but was rarely played which is one of the reasons he is leaving at the end of the season. Colin de Grandhomme has been fantastic for the Bears this season. He has been entertaining, a team player and a great watch. His bowling – like last season – still isn’t the greatest so I am glad that they haven’t bowled him too much but he has showed his role in the side is to hit the sixes and big scores in quick time.
The third of the overseas player was skipper Grant Elliott who has just announced his retirement. With two seasons at Edgbaston he has been a good player for us and a great skipper for about one and a half of those seasons after he took over from Ian Bell part way through last year. This year he has hit a few runs but more notably has been the leading wicket taken with nineteen wickets. He will be missed next year.
It has been an up and down tournament but one thing is for certain I have thoroughly enjoy it. The Blast this year has been full of entertainment and the decent weather we’ve had over here in the UK has meant not many games have been affected by rain. It makes me wonder, why we need a new tournament alongside it. Why can’t the ECB put their funds towards the county tournaments we already have instead of creating a poor new format altogether? The “proposed” 100 ball tournament is a monstrosity and a kick in the teeth to the game.
Hopefully, it doesn’t go ahead. That the ECB sees sense that we don’t need another format to over complicate the game further for those just discovering this wonderful sport.