Ian Bell rarely misses an opportunity to shine when available for his county, and his 90 off 65 balls guided the Birmingham Bears to a seven-wicket win in their NatWest T20 Blast match at Chester-le-Street.
In the windswept battle between the holders and the north group leaders Bell gave the Bears the initiative when he drove and pulled two successive balls from England colleague Ben Stokes for six.
That was in the fourth over of their reply to 163 for seven, but they fell behind the rate when Paul Collingwood’s gentle floaters yielded only six runs in his first two overs.
Needing 95 off the last ten, William Porterfield stepped on the gas by driving Collingwood over long-on then Bell twice cut Scott Borthwick wide of backward point.
There was no let-up and when Stokes returned for the 16th over Bell straight drove two fours and guided two more to third man either side of a high full toss.
As Stokes had already had one warning for a full toss above waist height he looked fortunate to be allowed to complete the over, which cost 21.
Bell departed in the next over when he swotted a short ball from John Hastings to mid-off, but the stand of 96 had left only 16 needed off three overs.
Laurie Evans fell lbw to an Usman Arshad yorker, but Porterfield’s unbeaten 41completed the task with five balls to spare.
Durham were put in and had made only six when Phil Mustard fell in the third over, tamely pulling Oliver Hannon-Dalby to mid-wicket.
Calum MacLeod survived a leading edge straight back to Recordo Gordon on nine to make 41 off 27 balls.
The acceleration began when Boyd Rankin came on for the sixth over. Two of the big Irishman’s first three balls were short enough for Mark Stoneman to pull and, although he top-edged them, both flew high to fine leg, for four and six. MacLeod also cut a four as the over cost 15.
But Stoneman departed for 18, lbw to a yorker from Gordon to bring in Stokes, who pulled the off-spin of Ateeq Javid for six two overs later.
With Jeetan Patel at the other end both batsmen proved very adept at finding the gap between long-on and deep mid-wicket as the total reached 82 at the halfway point.
But the momentum stalled as MacLeod drove Javid to long-on then Collingwood was run out for four, sent back at the non-striker’s end and beaten by Porterfield’s direct hit from backward point.
Stokes gave himself room to swing through a leg-stump ball from Rankin and hit it for a straight six, but the Bears’ gamble on leaving Javid on paid dividends when he had Stokes lbw for 40 attempting a reverse sweep. Javid had two for 29 in four overs.
Hannon-Dalby came back for the 18th over in preference to Rikki Clarke and his first ball was driven for a straight six by Hastings as 14 came off the over.
Hastings made 21 off 12 balls before driving to extra cover in the final over then Gordon Muchall straight-drove his only boundary in an unbeaten 30 off 20 balls.