This year marks the 10th anniversary of Bears’ historic first T20 Blast win and we’re reliving that memorable campaign by talking to the players involved.

Captain Varun Chopra took the reins in 2014 and led from the front.

Bears’ top run scorer in the tournament, Chops’ do-or-die attitude inspired his team to overcome the odds and win some games from seemingly forlorn positions. Resilient, unorthodox, risky… he did it his way.

“People thought I was a gambler. I wanted us to control our own destiny. To win it our way, or lose it our way. When you’re in the game, you call what you see. Sometimes the decisions raised eyebrows. A gambler? Maybe. But it was always calculated.”

Varun Chopra’s elevation to become Bears captain ahead of the 2014 season seemed a natural progression.

Friend and former skipper Jim Troughton had been dogged with a back injury. Chopra had captained through Essex’s youth and Academy ranks, and enjoyed success during two years as captain of England’s Under-19s. It was his time.

“I wasn’t a shouter. OK, perhaps the odd time,” said Chopra, his back to playing fields at Bancroft’s School, Greater London, where he now works as the Cricket Professional.

“I didn’t want to get everyone over pumped before a game. It was about keeping the guys level headed, not too emotional. Express yourselves, enjoy the occasion but be calm and focused on what you’re doing.

“I was never ‘skipper’ or ‘gaffer’. Just Chops or Choppy. There were far better players than me in the dressing room.

“We had a good blend of characters. You need guys that take risks, some Steady Eddies, some quieter, some guys a bit louder that like a fight, like a scrap. Along the way we grew into our roles.

“Occasionally there was confrontation. As captain, you’ll always have that. I remember having a big blah with Jeets on the pitch during one game. It happens. But we were all good friends, strong enough to shake hands and move on. It never ran over.

“I enjoyed the extra responsibility of captaincy. It took away the focus on my batting which helped ’cause I didn’t like to be always thinking about my own game. I’d end up going round the houses with it or confusing myself.

“I made some mistakes; I would have done some stuff differently as captain. I wasn’t a perfect captain.”

Many in the 2014 Blast dressing room would disagree.

Chopra moved to Edgbaston from Essex following the 2009 summer but his first season was blighted with a broken hand.

He started the 2011 red ball season with back-to-back double centuries (210 at Somerset and 228 at New Road) and was the Club’s only batter to top 1,000 County Championship runs in every year from 2011-13.

It led to some dubious newspaper headlines of “Va-run machine”.

“Historically we’d not been a particularly strong T20 group,” added the 36-year-old. “The Club’s focus was on red ball and much of our training was based around 4-day cricket. We’d rest bowlers for T20 campaign so they were sharp for County Championship.

“Winning that was the Club’s priority and be competitive elsewhere, see what happens. It gave Ricky Gordon and Olly Hannon-Dalby their chances. They were important performers for us in the campaign and took their chances well.

“I remember telling people like Flash and Olly, if you’re playing Second XI cricket, in the last over at lunch, come in and bowl six yorkers for me. The result was irrelevant really. I wanted them working on their T20 skills all the time so they were prepared to go for the Blast.”

Chops scored 525 runs in the 2014 NatWest Blast at an average of 40.38.

He’s most remembered for stunning his former club at Chelmsford in the quarter final when his unbeaten 86 (six 4s, four 6s) and a 134-run partnership with Rikki Clarke booked their Finals Day ticket.

But it was their seemingly less notable fifth group game at Trent Bridge that, in Chopra’s opinion, flicked the T20 switch among the players.

“We’d got a below par score for Trent Bridge, about 150. My message was, if we’re going to lose, I’d rather lose in 12 overs and they can smash us. But let’s give it a crack.

“In the first over Chris Wright bowled a bumper that hit Matt Lumb on the head. He was a good T20 batter. We were in the battle and went at them a lot more than we’d done previously. We restricted them and won the game. I recall in the huddle afterwards, the feeling we had. I’ve played what, 400 games, but I remember that one. It gave us the belief we could do something.”

There would be no Churchillian speech from Chopra to rally the troops on Finals Day.

But his captaincy was tested with the return of Chris Woakes and Ian Bell from England duties and working out the best way to accommodate his star players.

He added: “I had my plans ahead of Finals Day. But plans change, and sometimes they change mid-game. Olly Hannon-Dalby ended up bowling the last four overs from the same end! I’m not sure if that’d happened before.

“He’d always bowl two up front and two at the death. But with Woakesy coming back and Rikki Clarke doing well with the new ball, I made the call.

“Cricket is probably the one sport that captains can properly manage and influence while the game’s in progress. If you choose the right bowler at the right time, set the right field to the right batter, you can win a game. Or lose a game if you get it wrong. Every ball is an event. I enjoyed T20 captaincy the most as you can have a big tactical influence.

“In the final I was playing beautifully. I’m still distraught how I got out to that ball! I wish I’d gone on for longer, because I was having lot of fun. Big names, Anderson, Flintoff, and a huge crowd. The crowd was brilliant the whole day as it always is at Edgbaston.

“To this day, it’s my best day as a cricketer. It’s the most fun I’ve had on a cricket pitch. I was enjoying it so much I wasn’t nervous…well, the last ball I was nervous. I’m standing at cover, I can’t affect the result now, it’s all over to Woakesy.

“If someone had told me midway through the group stage we’d get our hands on the trophy I’d have laughed and said, give me the money. But it all just came right.”

Four Teams. Two Matches. Blast Off is back!

Vitality Blast Off is back and the Bears will launch their home T20 campaign with a huge men’s double-header featuring two big Midlands rivalry games.

Taking place on Saturday 1 June, Derbyshire Falcons host Leicestershire Foxes (2.30pm) before the Bears take on Notts Outlaws (6.30pm). Buy tickets in advance and save.

Buy Tickets