Some extraordinary hitting from Alex Hales helped Nottinghamshire Outlaws to kick off their NatWest T20 Blast campaign with a convincing eight wicket victory over the Birmingham Bears at Trent Bridge.
The England one-day international was in irresistible form as he raced to an unbeaten 86 from only 43 balls, hitting 5 fours and 8 sixes as his side cantered to the win with 33 balls to spare.
Birmingham had posted 141 for seven after being invited to bat first, with skipper Varun Chopra making 80 from 61 balls but his side struggled against a disciplined bowling unit, led by Luke Fletcher, who took three for 24.
The Bears, who triumphed in 2014, had no answer to the onslaught served up by Hales after the interval, although his opening partner, Riki Wessels, had fired the first shots in anger by racing to a quickfire 30 out of an opening stand of 42.
Hales then took over, with the 26 year old, who will jet off to India this weekend for a brief stint with the Mumbai Indians, bowing out in devastating style as he plundered sixes from six consecutive deliveries faced, spread between the twelfth and thirteenth overs.
No bowler was spared, as the ball repeatedly flew into the stands, with Boyd Rankin and Ateeq Javid baring the brunt of the devastation. Each was hit away for three sixes in a row in one of the most brutal displays of hitting seen on the ground.
Earlier, Chopra had anchored the Bears innings, before falling to the penultimate ball of the twentieth over, making his runs from 61 balls faced and having hit 9 fours and a six.
He’d watched from the other end as Will Porterfield and Tom Lewis departed inside the first three overs.
The left handed Lewis, making his first team debut, was cleaned up by Harry Gurney without opening his account, to leave the score on 8 for two.
Fletcher, on the day it was announced that he would be heading off to play some Championship cricket for Surrey on a short loan, proved his worth in the white ball format by taking two wickets in his second over.
One of his trademark yorkers accounted for Tim Ambrose and when he knocked over Rikki Clarke’s stumps, four balls later, the big fast bowler set off on a mini-lap of the outfield. His joy seemed unconfined but not, presumably because he was celebrating his 50th wicket in T20 cricket.
Laurie Evans, who won the man of the match award for scoring 53 from 30 balls in last year’s final, played another noteworthy knock which included sixes off both Steven Mullaney and Vernon Philander.
After a fifth wicket stand of 77 Evans’ stay at the crease was terminated, with Fletcher hitting the pegs for the third time in the evening.
Chopra had reached his 50 from 41 deliveries but couldn’t quite carry his bat through the innings. During an eventful final over from Gurney, the opener was dropped by Philander as the ball spiralled out of the sky towards him.
Predictably, the next ball was slog-swept for 6 but in a chaotic end to the innings a return from the deep by Mullaney accounted for Chopra and then Keith Barker was run out in a similar fashion by Wessels’ accurate throw.
A crowd of 10,118 were in attendance and will have been wowed by what they saw as Notts lived up to their billing as one of the favourites for this year’s NatWest T20 Blast competition.