Report: Bears v Northants Steelbacks, Vitality Blast
Paul Stirling smashed a scintillating debut century as Birmingham Bears launched their Vitality Blast campaign with a 125-run thrashing of Northants Steelbacks at Edgbaston.
Ireland batter Stirling blazed his career T20-best 119 from 51 balls (nine fours, ten sixes), including 34 from one over, to lift the Bears to 207 for three in an innings reduced by rain to 16 overs.
Sam Hain (66 not out, 32 balls, seven fours, one six) ensured the bowlers had no respite at the other end in a partnership of 170 from 70 balls which brought the big Edgbaston crowd to its feet.
Chasing a D/L target of 207 in 16 overs, the Steelbacks then lurched to 20 for three from 20 balls and there was no way back from there. Spinners Jake Lintott (three for 19) and Danny Briggs (three for 21) exploited the pressure as Northants were bowled out for 81, only two batters reaching double figures.
After the Bears chose to bat, Stirling belted his fourth ball for his new side for six on his way to 33 from 18 balls before a rain break. The deluge halted a blistering start from Hain who smashed his first ball over extra cover and had 12 from five when the rain arrived.
The rain only delayed the punishment for the Steelbacks’ bowlers as the third-wicket pair collected a combined 142 in fours and sixes. James Sales copped the peak of the onslaught as Stirling hit the first five balls of an over for six, before slicing the sixth through slip for four.
Stirling thundered to his third T20 ton, from 46 balls, and celebrated with a six which landed 20 rows back in the Hollies Stand before perishing to a catch at long off in the final over.
It was a bruising start to the Blast for the Steelbacks’ bowlers – just 23 of 96 balls they delivered were dots. Their batters then took a few bruises too as their reply floundered to 40 for five in seven overs. Northants needed their overseas debutant to emulate Stirling but Aussie ace Chris Lynn reached only 16 before lifting Henry Brookes to long leg.
Brookes had already bowled Ben Curran and Josh Cobb was then brilliantly held at deep mid-wicket by Bethell. The Steelbacks needed 16 an over from the last 11 overs and melted under the pressure.