Varun Chopra returned to the team in the most spectacular style with a brilliant unbeaten 97 to power Birmingham Bears to a nine-wicket NatWestT20Blast win over Durham Jets at Edgbaston.

Selected for his first Blast game of the season after Sammie Hain was laid low by food-poisoning, Chopra blasted 97 (58 balls, eight fours, five sixes) to thunder his team past a modest target with 14 balls to spare.

His explosive work meant the Jets failed to build on their 66-run win over Notts Outlaws two days earlier. They managed only a below-par 154 for nine on a good batting pitch, having found it hard going against an attack strengthened by the return of Chris Woakes and Rikki Clarke, who finished with a combined 8-1-50-5.

At 118 for eight with three overs left, the Jets were in disarray before some late hitting from Paul Collingwood (40 balls, two fours, two sixes) at least lifted them to respectability.

That’s all it was. An opening stand of 94 in ten overs by Chopra and Ian Bell settled the game and Chopra saw the job through, narrowly failing to become only the second Birmingham player to score a NatWestT20Blast ton.

After Durham were put in, Clarke soon made his presence felt with a wicket-maiden in his second over, Graham Clark falling to a brilliant catch by Josh Poysden at mid-on. Olly Hannon-Dalby had already removed Mark Stoneman, who edged behind, and then held a sharp catch at short fine-leg off Clarke to oust Michael Richardson.

Phil Mustard’s typically busy 22 (20 balls) ended when he lifted Woakes to Poysden at fine leg. Ryan Pringle (33, 18 balls) cleared the ropes twice but was bowled by spinner Ateeq Javid’s second ball and when Woakes returned to remove Paul Coughlin and Scott Borthwick in three balls, the Jets badly needed some late impetus. Collingwood provided it with two sixes in the last over from Hannon-Dalby.

Chopra cancelled those out in no time, lifting Usman Arshad over the extra-cover fence twice in the bowler’s first eight balls. Chopra and Bell had 50 on the board in 34 balls and the former continued to give spectators excitement and alarm in equal measure as he sent two more big hits into the crowd on his way to a scintillating 30-ball half-century.

Bell (35, 27 balls) was bowled by Scott Borthwick and thereafter it was just a question of whether the target was tall enough for Chopra to reach his ton. It wasn’t, quite, but the former Essex opener had still given the crowd an innings to savour.

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