Birmingham Bears will launch their NatWest T20 Blast campaign against Notts Outlaws on Friday – at the Trent Bridge ground where two years ago they pulled off one of the greatest comeback wins ever seen in the format.
Several times during a tumultuous night in Nottingham, the Bears were on the back foot, most of all when The Outlaws, chasing 156, had charged to 57 without loss after 5.1 overs!
But each time Birmingham retrieved the situation, showing the skills, spirit and resolve which, two months later, would take them all the way to lifting the trophy.
In front of the usual exuberant Trent Bridge crowd, the Bears batted first and found the going tough early on, sliding to 43 for three before overseas star Shoaib Malik steadied the ship with 29 from 23 balls.
But on a pitch offering bowlers some assistance, it was sixth-wicket pair Laurie Evans and Ateeq Javid who really gave their side something to bowl at.
Coming together at an awkward 89 for five they added an unbroken 67 in 37 balls, Evans socking a six and six fours in an unbeaten 45 from 23 balls and Javid, playing with the subtle skills which so often inject vital late-innings impetus, making 26 from 20.
Their alliance lifted the final total to 156 for five, which looked about par, if not slightly above, until Alex Hales and Michael Lumb came out all guns blazing to fire their side past 50 inside five overs.
It was an onslaught against which some teams would have wilted but Birmingham kept their nerve – no-one more so than Malik who silenced the Notts crowd by disposing of both openers in three balls. With his second delivery he bowled Hales, who had smote 30 from 16 balls, and with his fourth he won an lbw shout against Lumb.
Suddenly it was the big contingent of travelling Birmingham fans who were making the noise and they continued to do so as their team closed out an amazing victory. The Notts innings was throttled by a collectively accurate bowling effort, backed up by brilliant fielding.
Jeetan Patel led the way with two for 18 from his four overs. Recordo Gordon, on his Blast debut, took two for 28. Malik ended with two for 21 and Javid followed up his earlier priceless runs with the big wicket of Samit Patel in two overs which went for just 11 runs.
After seeming to have had the match in the bag, Notts fell 18 runs short. The Outlaws were ambushed – and the Bears had taken a great big stride towards glory.